A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 1


firewood detachment

It was becoming increasingly evident that our colony was ill-adapted to farming, and our gaze was ever turning towards the new place, to the banks of the Kolomak, where the spring was awakening the orchards to such luxuriant blossoming, and the soil gleamed from its own richness.

But work on repairs in the new colony progressed at a snail's pace. The only carpenters whom we could afford to employ knew how to build log cabins, but were at a loss when confronted with buildings of a more complex design. Glass was not to be obtained for any amount of money, and we had no money. By the end of the summer, however, two or three of the larger buildings were put into some sort of shape, but could not be occupied for lack of windowpanes. We were able to get a few small annexes completed, but these were needed for the housing of carpenters, bricklayers, stove-makers, and watchmen. There would have been no point in moving the boys into them, anyhow, without workshops, and with no real work on the and to do as yet.

Our boys visited the new colony every day, however, for a considerable part of the work was being done by them. In the summer, about ten boys made themselves improvised shelters and worked in the orchards. They sent cartloads of apples and pears back to the original colony. As a result of their efforts, the Trepke orchards began to look quite presentable, though there was still room for improvement.

The inhabitants of Goncharovka were greatly perturbed by the arrival of new masters at the Trepke ruins, especially when they saw how disreputable, ragged, and little imposing these new masters were. To my dismay, our order for sixty desyatins turned out to be a mere scrap of paper, since all the arable land on the Trepke estate, including the area which had been allotted to us, had been under cultivation by the local peasantry since 1917.

In the town they only smiled at our perplexity.

"If you have an order, it means the and belongs to you. Just go into the fields and start ploughing!"

But Sergei Petrovich Grechany, the chairman of the Village Soviet, was of a different opinion.

"You know how it is, when a hard-working peasant gets and in strict accordance with the law," he explained. "He begins to till it. Those who write out all these orders and papers are simply stabbing the toiler in the back. And I advise you not to butt in with that order of yours!"

Since the footpaths to the new colony led only to the bank of the Kolomak, we made our own ferry, and our boys took it in turns to act as boatman. But to carry loads, or to ride or drive there, we had to take a roundabout way, and use the bridge into Goncharovka, where we encountered no little hostility. The village lads would jeer at the sight of our humble turnout.

"Hi, you--ragamuffins! Don't shake your lice over our bridge! You'd better keep out of here--we'll make Trepke too hot to hold you, you'll see!"

We installed ourselves in Goncharovka, not as peaceful neighbours, but as conquerors. And if in this, our military situation, we had not stood firm, or had shown ourselves unequal to the contest, we would inevitably have lost estate, grounds and all. The peasants knew that the dispute would be settled not in the offices, but right there in the fields. They had been ploughing the Trepke and for three years and had established a kind of proscriptive right to it and it was on this that they based their claim. It was necessary for them to extend the duration of this right at all costs, for their entire hopes rested on these tactics.

In much the same way, our only hope was to start farming the and as soon as possible.

In the summer, surveyors came to mark our boundaries, but, not daring to take their instruments into the fields, they merely pointed out to us on a map the ditches, banks, and thickets, according to which we could measure our land. Armed with the surveyor's deed, I went to Goncharovka with some of the older boys.

The chairman of the Village Soviet was now our old friend Luka Semyonovich Verkhola. He received us courteously, invited us to sit down, but would not so much as glance at the surveyor's deed.

"Dear comrades," he said. "There's nothing I can do for you. Our muzhiks have been tilling this and for a long time. I can't offend the muzhiks. Ask for and somewhere else!"

When the peasants went out into our fields and started ploughing them, I hung out a notice to the effect that the colony would not pay for the ploughing of its land.

I did not believe myself in the measures taken, for my heart sank at the realization that the land was to be taken from peasants, hard-working peasants, for whom it was as necessary as air.

And then, a few evenings later, Zadorov led a stranger up to me in the dormitory--a youth from the village. Zadorov seemed greatly excited.

"Listen to him--just you listen to him!" he exclaimed.

Karabanov, catching his excitement, was performing steps from the hopak, [Ukrainian folkdance--Tr.] and yelling all over the dormitory: "He, ho! Now we'll show Verkhola what's what!"

The boys clustered round us.

The youth turned out to be a member of the Komsomol from Goncharovka.

"Are there many Komsomols in Goncharovka?" I asked him.

"There's only three of us."

"Only three?

"We have a hard time of it, I can tell you!" he continued. "The village is under the thumb of the kulaks--the farmsteads, you know, take the lead. Our fellows have sent me to tell you to come over as soon as possible--then we'll show them! Your lads are a determined lot. If only we had a few like that!"

"But we don't know what to do about this land business."

"That's just what I've come about. Take the land by force. Pay no attention to that red-haired devil of a Luka. Do you know who's farming the land allotted to you?"


"Tell us, Spiridon! Tell us!"

Spiridon began checking off the names on his fingers.

"Grechany--Andrei Karpovich...."

"Gaffer Andrei! But he has land this side!"

"Very well, then.... Petro Grechany, Onopri Grechany, Stomukha--the one who lives next to the church... oh, yes, Seryoga.., Stomukhia, Yavtukh, and Luka Semyonovich himself. That's all--six of them!"

"Not really! How did it come about? And what about your Kombed?"

"Our Kombed is a small affair. It can be bought off with samogon. This is how it all happened: that land was to stay with the estate, it was to be used for something or other. And the Village Soviet is in their hands. So they just divided the land between themselves--that's all!"

"Now things will begin to get a move on!" shouted Karabanov. "Watch your step, Luka!"

One day, in the beginning of September, I was returning from town. It was about two o'clock in the afternoon. Our lofty gig was lumbering slowly ahead; Anton's discourse on the vagaries of Red buzzed dreamily past my ears. While listening to it I managed at the same time to think about various problems in connection with the colony.

All of a sudden Bratchenko fell silent. Looking fixedly ahead at a point some distance away on the road, he rose in his seat and whipped up the horse, making the carriage fly over the cobblestones with a terrible clatter. Anton went on whipping Red--a thing he never did--and shouted something to me. At last I was able to make out the words:

"Our chaps ... with a seed-drill!"

At the turning towards the colony, we nearly ran into a seed-drill rushing at full speed, emitting strange metallic sounds the while. A pair of boys was tearing wildly ahead, terrified by the din of the unfamiliar chariot behind them. The seed-drill rolled ponderously over the highroad, rumbled over the sand, and then resumed its thunderous progress along the road to the colony. Anton, leaping from the gig to the ground and flinging the reins into my hands, rushed after the seed-drill, on which, hanging on to the taut reins, Karabanov and Prikhodko kept their balance as by a miracle. With the utmost difficulty, Anton managed to stop the strange vehicle. Karabanov, breathless with excitement and exhaustion, told us what had happened.

"We were in the yard, piling bricks. Suddenly we saw a seed-drill with about five men following it--ever so grand!--driving into the fields. We went up to them. You go away!' we said. There were four of us--us two, and Chobot and ...who else?"

"Soroka," said Prikhodko.

"That's right--Soroka! 'Go away!' I said. 'You're not going to sow here, anyhow!' Then one of them, a dark chap, looks like a gipsy, you know who I mean--lashed out at Chobot with his whip. Well, Chobot gave him a sock in the jaw. Suddenly we saw Burun rush up with a stick. I took one of the horses by the bridle, and the chairman rushed up and took hold of me by the front of my shirt...."

"Which chairman?"

"'Which'? Ours, of course--that red-haired chap, Luka Semyonovich. Well, Prikhodko gave him a kick from behind, and he tumbled down with his nose in the earth. 'Get on to the seeder!' I shouted to Prikhodko, and off we went! When we were galloping into Goncharovkra, there were the village lads out in the street--what was I to do? I whipped up the horses, they galloped over the bridge, and there we were, on the highroad.... Three of our chaps are still there. I expect the muzhiks have given them a good beating up."

Karabanov was quivering all over with triumph. Prikhodko, imperturbably rolling himself a cigarette, was smiling quietly. I was picturing to myself the next chapters of this highly entertaining history: commissions, interrogations, investigations, and all that!

"Damn you all! You've got us into a mess again!"

Karabanov was profoundly dashed by my reaction.

"They began it...!"

"Very well, go back to the colony. We'll discuss it there."

We were met at the colony by Burun. His forehead was adorned with an enormous bruise, and he was surrounded by a crowd of laughing boys. Chobot and Soroka were washing at the water butt.

Karabanov seized Burun by the shoulders. "Well, so you got away from them! Good lad!"

"First they rushed after the seed-drill," said Burun, "then, seeing it was no good, they turned on us. How we ran!"

And where are they?"

"We crossed in the boat, and they stood on the bank, swearing. We left them there."

"Are there any of our boys still over there?"

"Only kids--Toska and two others. Nobody will hurt them."

An hour later Luka Semyonovich came to the colony with two of the villagers. Our lads greeted them courteously: "Come for your seed-drill?"

It was almost impossible to move in my room for the crowd of interested spectators. The situation was an embarrassing one.

Luka Semyonovich, seating himself at the table, was the first to speak.

"Call those chaps who beat up me and my mates!" he demanded.

"Look here, Luka Semyonovich!" I said to him. "If you have been beaten up, go and complain wherever you like. I'm not going to call anyone just now. Tell me what it is you want, and what made you come to the colony!"

"So you refuse to call them?"

"I do!"

"Ha! You refuse, do you? Then we shall have to discuss it elsewhere."

"All right!"

"Who's going to give back the seed-drill?"

"'Give it back to whom?"

"There's the owner!" he said, pointing towards a dark, curly-haired morose fellow, evidently the one who Karabanov said looked like a gipsy.

"Is it your seed-drill?" I asked him.

"Yes, it is!"

"Well, then: the seed-drill I'll send to the District Militia, as seized during unlawful sowing on the property of others. And you, I'll ask to give me your name."

"My name? Grechany, Onopri! What d'you mean 'the property of others'? It's my and! It's always been mine...."

"Well, we won't go into that just now! Now we'll make out a deposition of unlawful entry, and beating up members of the colony while working in the fields."

Burun stepped forward.

"That's the one who nearly killed me," he said.

"You're not worth it! Kill you? You must be mad!"

The conversation went on in this strain for a long time. I forgot all about dinner and supper, the bell for going to bed had been rung, and still we sat there with the villagers, discussing the matter--now amicably, now with threats and excitement, now with elaborate irony.

I stood my ground, firmly refusing to surrender the seed-drill, and insisted on drawing up a deposition. Fortunately the villagers bore no traces of the fight on their persons, while our lads could point to bruises and scratches. It was Zadorov who put an end to further argument. Slapping the table with his hand, he made the following brief speech:

"That's enough, fellows! The land is ours, and you'd better not meddle with us. We're not going to let you into our fields. There are fifty of us--all determined lads!"

Luka Semyonovich thought long, and at last, stroking his beard, and grunting, said:

"All right, confound you! But you might at least pay us for the ploughing!"

"No," I said coldly. "I gave you fair warning!"

There was another pause.

"Well, then, give us back the drill."

"I will, if you sign the surveyor's deed!"

"All right. Give it here!"

After all, we did sow rye in the new colony that autumn. We were our own agricultural experts. Kalina Ivanovich knew very little about farming, and the rest of us knew still less, but everyone was eager to work with plough and seed-drill. Everyone, that is, but Bratchenko, who suffered pangs of jealousy for his beloved horses, anathematized the land, the rye, and our enthusiasm.

"Wheat isn't enough for them--they must have rye, too!" he grumbled.

By October, eight desyatins were a vivid green with young shoots. Kalina Ivanovich pointed proudly with his rubber-tipped staff towards some vague point in the east.

"We ought to sow lentils there," he said. "Splendid stuff, lentils!"

Red and Bandit toiled over the and to be sown with spring corn, and Zadorov would come home in the evenings, weary and dusty.

"To hell with it--this muzhik stuff is hard work! I'll go back to the smithy!"

Our work was half done when the snow overtook us. We thought this not so bad for beginners.