A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 1


The repairing of the Trepke estate turned out to be an extremely complicated and difficult business. There were numbers of houses, all of which required, not so much repairs, as practically rebuilding. Money was tight all the time. The aid rendered by local government departments manifested itself chiefly in all sorts of orders for building materials, which had to be taken to other towns--Kiev, Kharkov....And there our orders were regarded with contempt, only about ten per cent of the materials was issued, and sometimes none at all. The half truckload of glass which, after several journeys to Kharkov, we managed to obtain, was taken from us on the rails, just outside our town, by some organization infinitely more influential than our colony.

Our lack of money made it extremely difficult to hire labour, and we had to do almost everything ourselves, though we did manage to get some carpentry done through an cartel.

But we were not long in finding financial resources, for the new colony abounded in ancient, broken-down sheds and stables. The Trepke brothers had run a stud farm, and the breeding of pedigree horses had not so far been included in our plans--the restoration of these stables would have been beyond our means, anyhow. "Not for the likes of us," as Kalina Ivanovich said.

We began to take down these buildings and sell the bricks to the villagers. There were plenty of purchasers--every self-respecting householder needs to make himself a stove or make a cellar, while the representatives of the kulak tribe, with the avidity which is their characteristic, simply bought bricks to keep in reserve.

The work of breaking up the stables was done by our boys. Picks were fabricated in the smithy from all sorts of odd scraps and the work went with a swing.

Since the boys worked half the day and spent the other half at their lessons, they went to the new colony in two shifts. These groups made their way between the two colonies with the most businesslike air, which, however, did not prevent them from occasionally deviating from their path to give chase to some hen which had imprudently strayed from its yard for a change of air. The capturing of this hen, and still more the complete assimilation of all the calories contlained in it, were complicated operations demanding energy, prudence, coolness, and enthusiasm. These operations were still further complicated by the fact thiat the members of the colony were, when all is said and done, to a certain extent involved in the history of civiliation, and thus could not dispense with fire.

Altogether the journeys to work in the new colony enabled the members of the original colony to get into closer contact with the peasant world, while, in full accordance with the theories of historical materialism, it was the economic base of peasant life which interested the boys first and foremost, and to which, in the period under consideration, they came the closest. Without entering very deeply into a discussion of the various superstructures, my charges made straight for larder and cellar, disposing, to the best of their ability, of the riches contained therein. Justly anticipating resistance to their activities on the part of the population, with its petty proprietary instincts, the boys endeavoured to pursue the history of culture during the hours when such instincts slumber--that is, at night. And, in full accordance with scientific principles, the boys, for a certain period, employed themselves solely on the satisfaction of the elementary demand of mankind--the demand for food. Milk, smetana, lard, pies--such was the brief nomenclature drawn up by the Gorky Colony for use in their contacts with the village.

So long as this matter, so scientifically established, was in the hands of boys like Karabanov, Taranets, Volokhov, Osadchy, and Mityagin, I could sleep peacefully, for they were all distinguished by complete mastery of their subject, and by thoroughness. Of a morning, the villagers, after making a brief inventory of their property, would draw the conclusion that two jugs of milk were missing, while the two jugs standing there empty corroborated the findings of the inventory. But the padlock of the cellar door was always found to be unbroken, and the door fastened, and the roof intact, while the dog had not once barked in the night, and all objects, animate and inanimate, regarded the world around them with open, trusting eyes.

It was quite another state of affairs when the younger generation took up the study of primordial culture. Then it was that the padlock met its master's eyes with features petrified with horror, its very life having, truth to say, been undermined by clumsy treatment with a master key, if not with a crowbar originally intended for the task of restoring the former Trepke estate. The dog, as its master now recalled, had not merely barked in the night, but bad almost barked its head off, and nothing but the master's reluctance to leave his bed had deprived the dog of immediate reinforcements. The unskilled, rough-and-ready work of the younger members soon led to their experiencing in their own persons the horrors of pursuit by an irate householder, raised from his bed by the aforesaid dog, or even having lain in wait for the uninvited guests since the evening hours. Ad this it was that constituted the elements of my anxiety. The unsuccessful juniors made off with all haste for the colony--a thing their elders would never have done. The householder did the same, waking me up, and demanding that the offender be given up. But the offender was already in bed, so that I felt emboldened to put the guileless question: "Would you be able to identify the boy?"

"How could I identify him? I only saw him run back here."

"Perhaps it wasn't one of our lads," I suggested, becoming more and more guileless.

"Not one of yours? Before you came there were never any such goings on here!" The victim began to check off on his fingers the facts at his disposal:

"Last night Miroshnichenko had his milk stolen, the night before, Stepan Verkhola had his lock broken, last Saturday two chickens disappeared from the yard of Grechany, Petro; and the day before that, Stovbin's widow--you know who I mean!--had two tubs of smetana ready for the market, and when the poor woman went into her cellar, she found everything turned upside down, and the smetana all gone. And Vassili Moshchenko, Yakov Verkhola, and that hunchhack--what's his name?--Nechipor Moshchenko, all had their...."

"But where are your proofs?"

"Proofs, you say! I came out, and I saw them run back here, I tell you! Besides, who else could it be? Your chaps nose out everything on their way to Trepke."

By that time I was no longer so indulgent in my attitude to these occurrences. I pitied the villagers, and it was infuriating and alarming to have to acknowledge to myself my own utter powerlessness. It was particularly embarrassing for me that I did not even know about everything that went on, so that there could be no limits to my suspicions. And my nerves, due to the events of the winter, were now in a somewhat shaken state.

On the surface, everything seemed to be all right in the colony. In the daytime all the boys worked and studied, in the evening they joked and disported themselves, at night they went to bed, to wake up jolly and contented the next morning. And it was in the night that the sallies to the village took place. The elder boys received my indignant remonstances in meek silence. For a time the complaints of the peasants quieted down, but very soon their hostility to the colony would break out anew.

Our situation was rendered the more difficult in that robberies on the highroad were still going on. They had now assumed a somewhat altered character, the robbers taking from the villagers not so much money as provisions, and moreover in the very smallest quantities. At first I thought this was not the work of our hands, but the villagers, in private conversation, asserted:

"Oh, no! It must have been your boys. When we catch them and give them a beating, then you'll see!"

The boys reassured me eagerly:

"They're lying--the kulaks! Maybe one of our chaps sometimes goes to their cellars. That does happen. But robbing on the highroad--never!"

I could see that the boys were sincerely convinced that none of our lot went in for highway robbery, and I could see, too, that such robbery would be considered indefensible by the older boys. My nervous tension was somewhat relaxed by this knowledge, only however to be increased by the next rumour, the next encounter with the village spokesmen.

And then, quite suddenly, one evening, a platoon of mounted militiamen swooped down upon the colony. Sentries were posted at all the exits from our dormitories, and a thorough search was begun. I also was arrested in my own office, and it was precisely this which ruined the whole thing for the militia. The boys met the militiamen with doubled fists; they leaped through windows; brickbats were already beginning to be hurled about in the darkness, and hand-to-hand fights were going on in the corners of the yard. A regular crowd fell upon the horses drawn up in front of the stable, causing them to gallop wildly off into the forest. After loud altercations and a tremendous scuffle, Karabanov burst into my office, shouting:

"Come as quick as you can--there'll be an awful disaster!"

I rushed out into the yard, to be immediately surrounded by an infuriated crowd of boys, seething with rage. Zadorov was in hysterics.

"Will there ever be an end to all this?" he yelled. "Let them send me to prison, I'm sick of everything! Am I a prisoner, or am I not? A prisoner? Why? What's the search about? Poking their noses into everything...."

The terrified platoon commander endeavoured, nevertheless, to keep up his authority.

"Tell your pupils to go to the dormitories this minute and stand beside their beds!"

"On what grounds are you making a search?" I asked him.

"That's not your business. I have my orders."

"Leave the colony at once." "What d'you mean by that?"

"Without the permission of the Chief of the Gubernia Department of Public Education I shall not allow a search to be made. Understand that--I won't have it! And I shall use force to prevent it."

"Take care we don't search you!" shouted one of the boys, but I thundered at him: "Silence!"

"Very well," said the platoon commander threateningly, "you'll have to change your tone...."

He gathered his men around him, and with the help of the boys, who were beginning to cheer up--they found their horses, and departed, pursued by ironic injunctions.

In the town I procured an admonition for someone in the militia, but after this raid, events began to develop with extraordinary rapidity. The villagers came to me in indignation, threatening, shouting:

"Yesterday your boys took butter and lard from Yavtukh's wife on the highroad."

"That's a lie!" retorted one of the boys.

"Yes, they did! And pulled their caps over their eyes, so as nobody should recognize them."

"How many of them were there?" I asked.

"There was one, the woman says. One of your boys he was. He had on a coat like they wear."

"It's a pack of lies! Our fellows don't go in for that!"

The villagers went away, we maintained a dejected silence, and Karabanov suddenly burst out:

"It's a lie, I tell you--a lie! We'd know about it...."

The boys had long begun to share my anxiety, and even the assaults upon the cellars seemed to have ceased. With the approach of dusk, the colony seemed as if paralyzed in anticipation of something unforeseen, new, grievous and insulting. Karabanov, Zadorov, Burun, went from dormitory to dormitory, searched the darkest corners of the yard, ransacked the woods. Never in my life have my nerves been in such a bad state as they were at that time.

And then....

One evening the door of my office burst open, and a crowd of lads hustled Prikhodko into the room. Karabanov, holding Prikhodko by the collar, pushed him violently towards my table.


"Using the knife again?" I asked wearily.

"Knife--nothing! He's been robbing on the highroad."

The world seemed to be tumbling in ruins over my shoulders. Mechanically I tasked the silent, trembling Prikhodko:

"Is it true?"

"Yes," he whispered, almost inaudibly, his eyes on the ground.

Catastrophe arrived in the fraction of a second. A revolver suddenly appeared in my hand.

"Hell!" I exclaimed. "I'm through with you! ..."

But before I could raise the revolver to my temple a crowd of yelling and weeping lads was upon me.

I came to my senses in the presence of Ekaterina Grigoryevna, Zadorov, and Burun. I was lying on the floor between the table and the wall, with water streaming all over me. Zadorov, who was holding my head, lifted his eyes to Ekaterina Grigoryevna, saying:

"Go over there--the boys...they might kill Prikhodko... ."

In a moment I was out in the yard. I got Prikhodko away in an unconscious condition, covered with blood.