A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 1


Raissa's baby, the typhus epidemic, the winter with its frozen toes, its felling of trees, and other hardships, were gradually forgotten, but in the Department of Public Education they could not forgive me for what they called my barrack discipline.

"We'll finish off that police regime of yours!" they told me. "We need to build up social education, not to establish a torture chamber."

In my lecture on discipline I had ventured to question the correctness of the generally accepted theory of those days, that punishment of any sort is degrading, that it is essential to give the fullest possible scope to the sacred creative impulses of the child, and that the great thing is to rely solely upon self-organization and self-discipline. I had also ventured to advance the theory, to me incontrovertible, that, so long as the collective, and the organs of the collective, bad not been created, so long as no traditions existed, and no elementary labour and cultural habits had been formed, the teacher was entitled--nay, was bound!--to use compulsion. I also maintained that it was impossible to base the whole of education on the child's interests, that the cultivation of the sense of duty frequently runs counter to them, especially as these present themselves to the child itself. I called for the education of a strong, toughened individual, capable of performing work that may be both unpleasant and tedious, should the interests of the collective require it.

Summing up, I insisted upon the necessity of the creation of a strong, enthusiastic--if necessary an austere--collective, and of placing all hopes on the collective alone. My opponents could only fling their pedagogical axioms in my face, starting over and over again from the words "the child."

I was quite prepared for the colony to be "finished off," but our urgent daily problems--the sowing campaign, and the endless repairs to the new colony--prevented me from worrying about my persecution by the Department of Public Education. Someone there must have stuck up for me, for it was long before I was "finished off." Otherwise, what could have been simpler than to remove me from my post?

I avoided visiting the Department, however, for they spoke to me there in a manner which was far from cordial, if not actually contemptuous. One of my chief molesters was a certain Sharin, a handsome, gallant individual--dark, wavy-haired, a provincial lady-killer. He bad thick, red, moist lips, and strongly-marked, arched eyebrows. Who knows what he had been before 1917, but now he was a great expert on--of all things!--social education. He had acquired with ease the fashionable phraseology, and had the gift of warbling windy linguistic trills which, he was convinced, were fraught with pedagogical and revolutionary values.

He had adopted an attitude of supercilious hostility towards me ever since, on one occasion, I bad been unable to restrain my uncontrollable laughter.

One day he came to the colony, where, in my office, his eyes fell upon a barometer on the table.

"What's that thing?" he asked. "A barometer."

"What d'you mean--a barometer?"

"Just a barometer," I replied, astonished. "It tells us what the weather's going to be."

"Tells you what the weather's going to be?" he repeated. "How can it do that, lying here on your table. The weather isn't in here, it's out-of- doors."

It was then that I gave way to outrageous, uncontrollable laughter. I might have been able to restrain myself if Sharin had not looked so learned, if he had not had such an imposing head of hair, such an air of erudite assurance.

This moved him to ire.

"Why do you laugh?'" he asked. "And you call yourself a pedagogue! Is that the way you're bringing up your charges? You should explain, if you see I don't understand, not laugh."

But I was incapable of such magnanimity, and could only go on laughing. I had once heard a story which was almost the exact replica of my conversation with Sharin about the barometer, and I found it infinitely amusing that such silly stories should actually find their illustration in real life, and that an inspector from the Gubernia Department of Public Education should furnish material for one.

Sharin went off in a huff.

During the debate on my lecture on discipline, he criticized me ruthlessly.

"The localized system of medico-pedagogical influence on the personality of the child," quoth he, "inasmuch as it is differentiated in the organization of social education, should predominate to the extent that it is in accord with the natural demands of the child, and to the extent that it opens creative possibilities in the development of the given structure--biological, social, or economic. From the aforesaid it follows...."

For two whole hours, hardly pausing to take breath, his eyes half-closed, he flooded the audience with the viscous stream of his erudition, ending up with the touching sentiment: "Life is joy."

And it was this same Sharin who smote me hip and thigh in the spring of 1922.

The Special Department of the First Reserve Army sent a boy to the colony, with the express order that he should be admitted. The Special Department and the Cheka had sent us boys before. We took this one in. Two days later Sharin summoned me:

"Did you accept Evgenyev?"

"Yes, I did."

"What right have you to accept anyone without our permission?"

"He was sent by the Special Department of the First Reserve Army."

"What's the Special Department to do with me? You have no right to accept anyone without our permission."

"I can't refuse the Special Department. And if you consider they have no right to send boys to me, then settle that point with them. It's not for me to be an arbiter between you and the Special Department."

"Send Evgenyev back at once!"

"Only on your written instructions."

"My oral instructions ought to be enough for you."

"Let me have them in writing.

"I'm your superior, and I could arrest you on the spot, and give you a week's detention for nonfulfilment of my oral instructions."

"All right--do!"

I saw the man was longing to use his right to have me imprisoned for a week. Why go on looking for a pretext, when here is one ready to hand?

"You don't mean to send the boy back?" he asked.

"I'm not going to send him back without written instructions. I would much prefer, you see, to be arrested by Comrade Sharin than by the Special Department."

"Why would you prefer to be arrested by Sharin?" asked the inspector, obviously intrigued.

"It would be nicer, somehow. After all, it would be in the pedagogical line."

"In thiat case you are under arrest."

He picked up the receiver of the telephone.

"The militia? Send a militiaman immediately for the director of the Gorky Colony--I've put him under arrest for a week. Sharin."

"What am I to do? Wait in your office?"

"Yes, you will remain here!"

"Perhaps you'll let me out on parole. While the militiaman is on his way I could get something from the stores, and send the cart black to the colony."

"You will stay where you are."

Sharin seized his velour hat from the hat-stand--it went very well with his black hair--and rushed out of the office. Then I took up the receiver, and asked for the chairman of the Gubernia Executive Committee. He heard me out patiently.

"Look here, old chap," he said. "Don't let yourself get upset, but just go quietly home. Or perhaps it would be better to wait for the militiaman and tell him to call me up."

The militiaman arrived.

"Are you the director of the colony?"


"Come along with me, then."

"The chairman of the Gubernia Executive Committee has given me instructions to go home. He asked you to ring him up."

"I'm not going to ring anybody up. The chief can ring up from headquarters. Come on!"

In the street Anton stared with astonishment to see me under the escort of the militiaman.

"Wait for me here," I told him.

"Will they let you go soon?"

"What do you know about it?"

"That dark chap just came by and said: 'You can go home. Your director isn't coming.' And some women in hats came out and they said: 'Your director is arrested.' "

"You wait. I'll soon be back."

At headquarters I had to wait for the chief. It was four o'clock before he released me.

Our cart was piled high with sacks and boxes. Anton and I jogged peacefully along the Kharkov highroad, each thinking of his own affairs--he, probably, of fodder and pastures, I of the vicissitudes of fate, which seemed to have been specially made for the directors of colonies. We drew up every now and then to adjust the slipping sacks, perched ourselves upon them again, and proceeded on our way.

Anton was just tugging at the left rein preparatory to taking the turning to the colony, when Laddie suddenly shied, jerked up his head, and attempted to rear. From the direction of the colony a motorcar as bearing down on us, making for the town with a terrific hooting, clattering and snorting. A green velour hat flashed by, and Sharin cast a frightened glance at me. Beside him, his coat collar turned up, sat the moustached Chernenko, chairman of the Workers and Peasants' Inspection.

Anton had no time to wonder over the unexpected onrush of the motorcar, for Laddie had tangled something up in the complicated and unreliable system of harness. Nor had I any time for wondering, for a pair of colony horses, harnessed to a clattering farm car and filled to bursting point with boys, was racing up to us at full gallop. In front stood Karabanov, driving the horses, his head lowered, fiercely following the vanishing car with his gleaming gipsy eyes. The cart was going too fast to stop at once, the boys, shouting something, leaped to the ground, laughing and trying to hold Kararbanov back. At last Karabanov came to himself and realized what was going on. The crossroads took on the aspect of a fair.

The boys surrounded me. Karabanov was obviously dissatisfied that everything had ended up so prosaically. He did not even get down from the cart, but turned the horses' heads angrily, swearing at them.

"Turn round, you devils! Fine horses we've got ourselves!"

At last, with a final outburst of rage he managed to get the right-hand horse turned, and galloped off to the colony, still standing, bobbing up and down morosely over the bumps in the road.

"What's up with you all? What's the fire brigade out for?" I asked.

"Are you all crazy?" asked Anton.

Jostling and interrupting one another, the boys told me what had happened. They had an extremely vague conception of the whole affair, although they had all witnessed it. They had only the vaguest idea where they were off to in their carriage-and-pair, and what they intended to do in town, and were even astonished to be questioned about it.

"As if we knew! We'd have seen when we got there."

Zadorov was the only one capable of giving a coherent account of what had passed.

"It all happened so suddenly, you see," he explained. "Like a bolt from the blue. They came in a car, and hardly anyone noticed them. We were all working. They went into your office, and did something or other there ... one of our kids found out and he told us they were rummaging in the drawer. What could it be? The kids all ran to your porch, just as they were coming out. We heard them say to Ivan Ivanovich: 'Take over the directorship.' Then wasn't there a row! It was impossible to make anything out--someone was yelling, someone was taking the strangers by the coat lapels, Burun was shouting all over the colony: 'What have you done with Anton?' A regular riot! If it hadn't been for me and Ivan Ivanovich, it would have come to fisticuffs. I even had my buttons torn off. The dark chap was frightened out of his wits and made for the motorcar, which as standing waiting. They were off in no time, and the boys after them, yelling, shaking their fists, you never saw anything like it! And just then Semyon drove up from the other colony with an empty cart."

We turned into the colony yard. Karabanov, now quieted down, was in the stable, unharnessing the horses, defending himself against Anton's reproaches.

"You treat horses as if they were automobiles. Look--you've driven them into a sweat!" exclaimed Anton.

"Don't you see, Anton, we couldn't think about the horses just then! Can't you understand?" replied Karabanov, his eyes and teeth gleaming.

"I understood before you did--in town," said Anton. "You've all had dinner, and we've been dragged about to the militia."

I found my colleagues in a state of mortal fear. Ivan Ivanovich was only fit to be put to bed.

"Only think, Anton Semyonovich, how it might have ended?" he gasped. "Their faces were all so ferocious--I was sure it would come to knives in a minute. Zadorov saved the situation--he was the only one who kept his head. We tried to pull them back, but they were just like hounds, furious, yelling...ugh!"

I did not question the boys, and tried to behave as if nothing special had happened. They, for their part, showed little curiosity. They were probably no longer interested--the members of the Gorky Colony were first and foremost realists, and could only be held by what was of practical application.

I was not summoned to the Department of Public Education, and I did not go there on my own initiative. But a week later I had business in the Gubernia Workers' and Peasants' Inspection. I was sent for by the chairman in his office. Chernenko received me like a brother.

"Sit down, old chap, sit down!" he said, pumping away at my hand, and regarding me with a joyous beam. "What fine fellows those of yours are! You know, after what Sharin told me, I expected to see wretched, unhappy beings, pitiful creatures, you know...and those sons-of-bitches, how they swarmed round us--devils, regular devils! And the way they ran after us--I never saw anything like it, damn me, if I did! Sharin sat there muttering: 'I don't think they'll catch us up!' And I said: 'So long as the car doesn't break down!' It was priceless! I haven't had such fun for ages! When I tell people about it they split their sides with laughter, they almost fall off their chairs...."

My friendship with Chernenko dated from that moment.