A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 1


The repairing of Trepke had been going on for over two years and by the spring of 1923 it appeared, almost to our own surprise, that a great deal had been done, and the new colony began to pray a noticeable part in our life. It was the main sphere of Sherre's activities, for the cowshed, the stables, and the hoghouse were all there. With the onset of the summer season, life did not dwindle to nothing, as it used to, but fairly seethed with activities.

For some time the motive force of this life was still the mixed detachments of the old colony. Throughout the day the almost uninterrupted movements of the mixed detachments could be observed, both in the winding paths and along the boundary lines of the two colonies--some detachments hastening towards the new colony to work, others hurrying back to dinner or supper in the old one.

Ranged in single file, the mixed detachment covered the distance at a rapid pace. Boyish ingenuity and audacity found little difficulty in getting round the rights of property, and ignoring boundaries. At first the owners of farmsteads made feeble attempts to outwit this ingenuity, but soon realized that it was impossible--the boy persistently, and with the utmost sangfroid, carried out revisions of the various communicating paths between the farmsteads, determinedly straightening them in their pursuit of a definite ideal. In those places where the straight line led through a farmyard it became necessary to accomplish this work by other than geometrical means, such obstacles as dogs, hurdles, fences, and gates had also to be overcome.

The easiest of these were the dogs--we had plenty of bread, and even without bread the farmstead dogs had a soft spot for the members of the colony. The uneventful canine life, lacking vivid impressions and healthy laughter, was suddenly brightened up by a host of new and exciting experiences--varied society, interesting conversation, a wrestling match in the nearest heap of straw, and, finally--the acme of bliss--permission to leap alongside the rapidly marching detachment, to snatch a twig from the hand of a little chap and sometimes to be rewarded by a bright ribbon round the neck. Even the chained representatives of the farmsteads' canine police turned traitor, the more so that the main target of aggressive action was missing--from the early spring the boys did not wear trousers--shorts were more hygienic, looked nicer, and cost less.

The disintegration of farmstead society, beginning with the defection of the dogs, went further and further, till all the other obstacles in the way of straightening the line "Colony-Kolomak" became ineffective. First the Andreis, the Nikitas, the Nechipors and the Mikolas,--with an age range of ten to sixteen--came over to our side. It was the romantic aspect of the life and work of the colony which attracted them. They had long been listening to our bugle calls, and feeling the indescribable charm of a big and joyous collective, and now they gaped in admiration iat all these signs of the higher human activities--the "mixed detachment," the "commander," and--grandest of all--the "report." Their seniors were interested by the new methods of agricultural work--the Kherson crop rotation system made not only the boys, but also our fields and our seed-drill more attractive to them. It became a commonplace for every mixed detachment to be joined by a friend from the farmstead, bearing a hoe or spade stealthily extracted from the threshing shed. These lads filled our colony in the evening, too, and became, almost unnoticeably to ourselves, an indispensable part of it. Their eyes showed that to be a member of the colony had become the dream of their lives. Some of them attained this later, when conflicts which had their origin in family and daily life, or in religion, thrust them from their parents' embraces.

And, finally, the disintegration of the farmstead was accomplished by the strongest force in the world--the farmstead girls could not hold out against the charms of the barelegged, spruce, gay and accomplished colony boys. The local representatives of the male sex possessed nothing with which to combat these charms, especially as the colony boys themselves were in no hurry to profit by maidenly accessibility, did not smite the girls between their shoulder blades, seize them by any part of their anatomy, or bully them. Our older generation was by now approaching the Rabfak and the Komsomol, and had begun to feel the charm of refined courtesy and interesting conversation.

The sympathy of the farmstead girls had not as yet taken the form of infatuation. They liked our girls too, for, though intelligent and townbred, they never gave themselves airs. Love affairs came a little later. It was not so much "dates" and nightingale concerts, as social values which the girls sought in our midst. They flocked more and more frequently to the colony. Still afraid to come singly, they would sit in a row on the benches, imbibing in silence all sorts of novel impressions. Could it have been that they were overwhelmed by the prohibition to nibble sunflower seeds, either indoors or out-of-doors?

Wattle fences and gates, thanks to the sympathy felt for our affairs by the younger generation, no longer availed the owners in the old way--that is to say as tokens of the inviolability of private property--and our boys soon became so audacious that in the most difficult places they actually made for themselves a kind of stile- means of getting over fences not to be met with in other parts of Russia, and consisting in a narrow plank pushed through a wattle fence, and supported by a wooden peg at either end.

The straightening of the Kolomak-Colony line was carried out at the expense of the farmers crops--this sin must be admitted. And by the spring of 1923, one way or another, this line could have borne comparison with the October railway, [The October line runs without a single deviation between Moscow and Leningrad.--Tr.] greatly facilitating the work of our mixed detachments.

The mixed detachment was the first to be served at dinner. By twelve-twenty the first mixed detachment had finished its dinner and set off. The teacher on colony duty handed its commander a paper on which all necessary details were entered--the number of the detachment, the list of its members, the name of the commander, the work assigned, and the time for its execution.

Sherre introduced higher mathematics into all this--the task was calculated to the last inch and the last ounce.

The mixed detachment would start out rapidly, and in five or six minutes its column could be made out far into the field. Soon it jumped a hurdle, and disappeared among the huts. Following it, at a distance determined by the length of the talk with the teacher on colony duty, came the second--3-C or perhaps 3-0. In a very short time the whole field would be cut up by the lines of our detachments. And Toska, perched upon the roof of an icehouse would already be calling out:

"One-P coming back!"

And indeed I-P can be made out, its column emerging from between the farmstead wattle fences. One-P always works on ploughing and sowing, and in general on work with the horses. It had left home at five-thirty a.m., its commander Belukhin having accompanied it. It was Belukhin whom Toska had been looking out for from the vantage point of the icehouse roof. Another few minutes and 1-P--six members in all--is in the yard of the colony. While the detachment is seating itself at the table in the woods, Belukhin hands in his report to the teacher on colony duty, checked by Rodimchik las to time of arrival and execution of work.

Belukhin is, as ever, in good spirits.

"There was a delay of five minutes, you see. It's the navy's fault. We wanted to go to work, and Mitka was ferrying some speculators across."

"What speculators?" asked the teacher on colony duty, his curiosity aroused.

"Don't you know? They've come to rent the orchard."


"Well, I didn't let them go further than the shore. What d' you think--you're to munch apples and we're just to look on? Row back, citizens, to the point of departure! Hullo, Anton Semyonovich--how's things?"

"Hullo, Matvei!

"Tell me, for God's sake--are you ever going to get rid of that Rodimchik? You know, Anton Semyonovich, it's simply a disgrace! A man like that, you know, going about the colony, and depressing everyone. He even takes away one's desire to work, and then I have to give him the report to sign. Whatever for?"

This Rodimchik was an eyesore to all the members of the colony. By now there were over twenty persons in the new colony, and there was work and to spare. Sherre carried out work with the help of the mixed detachments of the first colony in the fields only. The stables, the cowshed, the ever-expanding hoghouse, were tended by the boys on the spot. An enormous outlay of energy was expended in the new colony on getting the orchard into order. There were four desyatins of the orchard, which was full of fine young trees. Sherre had undertaken work on a huge scale there. The ground in the orchard was ploughed, the trees pruned and freed from excrescences; the great bed of black currants was weeded, paths laid down, and flower beds dug. Our newly-built hothouse had yielded its first products in the spring. A good deal of work was going on on the riverbank, too--the digging of ditches, and clearing away of reeds.

The repairs on the estate were approaching completion. Even the stable of hollow concrete no longer vexed us with its broken roof--it was covered with roofing paper and inside the carpenters were finishing the building of a hoghouse. According to Sherre's calculations it should house a hundred and fifty hogs.

Life at the new colony was not very tempting, especially in winter. In the old colony we had more or less settled down, and everything was in such good order that we scarcely noticed either the bleak brick buildings, or the aesthetic shortcomings of our daily life. Mathematical order, cleanliness and scrupulous neatness in the most insignificant details, compensated for the absence of beauty. The new colony, despite its wild beauty in the loop of the Kolomak, the high riverbanks, the orchard, the large, handsome buildings, had not yet been wrested from the chaos of ruin; it was still littered with building debris, and broken up by lime pits, and everything was so overrun with tall weeds, that I often wondered if we should ever be able to deal with them.

Nothing here was really quite ready for life--the dormitories were good ones, but there was no proper kitchen or dining room. And when the kitchen was more or less in order, there was no cellar. Worst of all was the matter of personnel there was no one to set things going in the new colony.

As a result of all this, the members of the colon, who had with such eagerness and fervour accomplished the enormous work of restoring the new colony, had no desire to live in it. Bratchenko, who was ready to cover twenty kilometres a day between one colony and the other, and to put up with insufficient food and sleep, considered that transference to the new colony would have been a disgrace. Even Osadchy declared: "I'd rather leave the colony than go to live at Trepke."

All the more vivid personalities in the old colony had by this time formed such a close circle, that not one of them could have been wrenched from it without a painful shock. To have transferred them to the new colony would have meant risking both the new colony and the individualities concerned. The boys themselves thoroughly realized this.

"Our lads are like good horses," Karabanov wouid say, "just harness a fellow like Burun properly, and cluck to him in the right way, and he'll go like anything, and be quite perky, but give him his head and he'll rush headlong down some hill, break his neck and smash the cart."

For this reason a collective of quite another tone and value began to form itself in the new colony. It contained boys who were neither so vivid, so active, nor so difficult. It had a kind of rawness, as regards the collective itself--the result of selection along pedagogical lines.

Any interesting personalities had got there by chance, having only lately emerged from the little ones, or unexpectedly turned up in a batch of new arrivals, and so far such personalities had had no time to make themselves felt, and were lost in the commonplace crowd of Trepke dwellers.

The Trepke lot as a whole were such as more and more to depress me, the teachers, and the other members of the colony. They were lazy, grubby, and even inclined to the mortal sin of begging. They regarded the old colony with envy, and mysterious rumours were rife among them as to what was had for dinner and supper there, what was brought to the larder in the original colony, and why this was not brought to them. They were incapable of strong, outspoken protest, and could only whisper sullenly in corners and cheek our official representatives.

The boys of the original colony had already begun to adopt a somewhat scornful attitude towards the Trepke dwellers. Zadorov or Volokhov would bring some grumbler from the new colony and thrust him into the kitchen of the old colony, with the words:

"Feed this starving fellow, do!"

The "starving fellow," would, of course, out of false pride, refuse to be fed. As a matter of fact the boys in the new colony were better fed. Our truck garden was nearer to it, there were things to be bought at the mill, and, finally, there were our own cows. It was difficult to send milk to the old colony: the distance was an impediment, and there never seemed to be a horse to spare.

A collective of shirkers and grumblers was formed in the new colony. As has already been pointed out, many circumstances were to blame for this, chief among which were the lack of the right people to form a true nucleus, and the poor work of the teaching staff.

Teachers did not wish to come and work in our colony--the pay was wretched and the work was hard. The Department of Public Education, moreover, sent us the first people who came to hand--men like Rodimchik, and after him, Deryuchenko. They arrived with their wives and children and occupied the best rooms in the colony. I made no protest, being thankful that even such people were to be found.

It could be seen at a glance that Deryuchenko was a typical follower of Petlyura. He "did not know" Russian, adorned all the rooms of the colony with cheap reproductions of Shevchenko's portrait, and immediately settled down to the only business for which he was fit--the singing of Ukrainian songs.

Deryuchenko was still young. He was curly all over, like the knave of clubs in Ukrainian national costume--his moustache was curly, his hair was curly, and his necktie, tied round the upright collar of his embroidered Ukrainian blouse, was curly too. And such a man had to perform tasks which--what a blasphemy!--had no connection with "the cause of the Great Ukraine": going on colony duty, making visits of inspection to the hoghouse, checking the arrival for work of mixed detachments, and, on his day of work duty, working alongside the boys. All this was pointless and unnecessary work in his eyes, and the whole colony was a completely futile phenomenon, bearing not the slightest relation to cosmic problems.

Rodimchik was just as useless in the colony as Deryuchenko, and even more repulsive....

Rodimchik had been in this world for thirty years, and had formerly worked in all sorts of departments--the Criminal Investigation Department, Co-operative Societies, the railway,--and at last he had turned to the business of educating the young in children's homes. His face, ruddy, creased and wrinkled, was strangely reminiscent of some ancient leather pouch. The flattened, crooked nose inclined sideways, the ears were pressed against the skull in lifeless, flabby folds, the mouth, vaguely awry, seemed to be worn out, jagged, and even torn in places, as if from long and slovenly use.

Arriving at the colony and installing himself and his family in a renovated apartment, Rodimchik hung around for a week, and then suddenly disappeared, sending me a note in which he explained that he had gone on most important business. Three days later he returned in a farm wagon, with a cow tied to the tail of the cart. Rodimchik told the boys to put the cow in with our own. Even Sherre was a trifle taken aback by this unexpected development.

In another two days Rodimchik came to me with the complaint.

"Little did I think that there would be such an attitude to employees here! They seem to have forgotten that the old days are over. My children and I have just as much right to milk as anyone else. The fact that I showed initiative and did not wait for government milk, but, as you know, did my best, and bought a cow out of my slender means and brought it to the colony myself, is, you'd think, worthy of approval, and not abuse. And how is my cow treated? There are several haystacks in the colony, and in addition to this the colony gets bran, chaff, and so on from the mill at reduced prices. And just look--all the cows are fed, and mine goes hungry, and the boys answer me so rudely--'supposing everyone was to have his own cow!' they say. The other cons are cleaned, and mine hasn't been cleaned for five days, and it's dirty all over. I suppose my wife is expected to go and clean up after the cow herself. And she would, too, but the boys don't give her spades, or forks, and they don't give her straw for bedding either. If a trifle like straw is made such a fuss about, I warn you I shall have to take decisive measures. What if I'm not in the Party any more! I used to be in the Party, and I deserve better treatment for my cow."

I stared blankly at this individual, wondering if a way of dealing with him could be found.

"Excuse me, Comrade Rodimchik, I don't quite understand," I began, "that cow of yours is private property--how can it be kept with the others? And then--you're a pedagogue, aren't you? Look what a position you are putting yourself into in the eyes of your charges!"

"Why? I'm not asking for anything," gabbled Rodimchik. "I'm perfectly willing to pay for the fodder and for the labour of the boys, if it's not too clear. And I never said a word about my child's tam-o'-shanter being stolen, and of course it was stolen by one of the boys."

I sent him to Sherre.

The latter had by that time regained his wits and sent Rodimchik's cow out of the cattle yard. In a few days it disappeared altogether--its owner had apparently sold it.

Two weeks passed. Volokhov raised the question at a general meeting: "What's the meaning of this? Why is Rodimchik digging potatoes in the colony truck garden? We have no potatoes for our kitchen, and Rodimchik is digging them up for himself. What right has he?"

The other boys supported Volokhov. Zadorov said:

"It's not the potatoes that matter. He has a family--if he'd asked in the right place nobody would have grudged him potatoes, but what's the good of that Rodimchik altogether? He sits all day in his room, or goes off to the village. The kids go dirty, they never see him, they live like savages. You go to him to get a report signed, and he's not to be found--he's either asleep or having dinner, or he's busy--and you must wait. What's the good of him?"

"We know how the staff should work," put in Taranets. "And that Rodimchik! He goes out with a mixed detachment on working day, stands about with a hoe half an hour, and then says: 'Well, I must be off for a little while!' And that's the last of him, and two hours later you see him coming away from the village with something in a sack for his family."

I promised the boys I would take measures. The next day I summoned Rodimchik to my office. He came towards evening, and when we were alone I began to rate him, but he interrupted me immediately, almost foaming at the mouth in his indignation.

"I know whose work that is, I know quite well who is trying to trip me up--it's all that German! You would do better to find out, Anton Semyonovich, what sort of a man he is. I have already--there wasn't any straw to be found for my cow even for money, I sold my cow, my children go without milk, it has to be brought from the village. And now just you ask what Sherre feeds his Milord on! What does he feed him on--do you know? No, you don't! He takes millet intended for the poultry--and makes a mash for Milord! Out of millet! He makes it himself and gives it to the dog to eat, and doesn't pay a kopek. And the dog cats the colony millet on the sly, free of charge, all because that man takes advantage of being the agronomist and of your trust in him."

"How- do you know all this?" I asked.

"Oh, I would never say such a thing without grounds. I'm not that sort of fellow. Just you look...."

He unwrapped a little packet which he had drawn from an inner pocket. In the packet there was something blackish-white, a strange sort of mixture.

"What is it?" I asked in astonishment.

"This will prove everything I say. It's Milford's excrements. His excrements, d' you understand? I went on and on till I got it. D' you see what he excretes? Real millet! And d' you think he buys it? Of course he doesn't, he simply takes it out of the larder."

"Look here, Rodimchik," I said. "You'd better quit the colony."

"How d' you mean--quit?"

"Quit as soon as possible. I'll discharge you in today's Order. Give in an application for voluntary resignation, that'll be the best way."

"I'm not going to leave matters like this!"

"All right. You don't--but I'm going to discharge you!"

Rodimchik went away. He did "leave matters like this," and in three days he was gone.

What was to be done about thie new colony? The Trepke dwellers were turning out to be bad colonists, and this could not be tolerated any longer. Every now and then fights broke out among them, and they were always stealing from one another--an obvious sign of something wrong in the collective.

Where is one to find people for this accursed business? Real human beings! Not so easy, damn it!