A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


We transferred to the new colony on a fine, warm day. The leaves on the trees not yet begun to turn, the grass was still green, as if at the height of its second youth, freshened by the first days of autumn. The new colony itself was at that time like a beauty of thirty years--lovely for itself as well as for others, happy and calm in its assured charm. The Kolomak encircled it on almost all sides, leaving a narrow passage for communication with Goncharovka. The whispering canopy of the luxuriant treetops of our park spread generously over the Kolomak. There was many a shady mysterious nook here, in which one could bathe, cultivate the society of pixies, go fishing, or, at the lowest, exchange confidences with a congenial spirit. Our principal buildings were ranged along the top of the steep bank, and the ingenious and shameless younger boys could jump right out of the windows into the river, leaving their scanty garments on the window sills.

The slope on which the old orchard grew was terraced, and the lowest terrace of all was taken over by Sherre from the very start. It was always airy and sunny here, and the Kolomak, if not particularly adapted to mermaids, fishing, or poetry, flowed broad and calm. Instead of poetry, cabbage and black currants flourished here. The members of the colony went to this plot with strictly practical intentions, armed with spade or hoe, and sometimes a few of the boys accompanied Falcon or Bandit, harnessed to a plough and picking his way with difficulty. Here also was situated our jetty-three planks jutting out over the waves of the Kolomak to a distance of three metres from the bank.

Still further, the Kolomak, curving eastward, generously left at our feet several hectares of lush meadowland, dotted with bushes and copses. We could descend to this meadow straight from our new orchard, and in hours of leisure there was a keen temptation to go and sit on this green slope in the shade of the poplars at the edge of the orchard, for yet another look at meadow, woods, and sky, at the silhouette of Goncharovka etched on the horizon. Kalina Ivanovich was very fond of this place, and sometimes, at noon, on a Sunday, would get me to go there with him.

I liked talking to Kalina Ivanovich about the peasants and the repairs, about life's inequities, and our own future. Before us lay the meadow, and this circumstance sometimes distracted him from his highly philosophical meanderings.

"You see, old man, life is like a woman--you can't expect justice from either. Anyone with a fine moustache will get any amount of pies and cheesecakes and fritters, and then another comes along, whose beard simply won't grow, let alone a moustache, and the wench won't even give him as much as a draught of water. Now, when I was a hussar.... Oh, you son-of-a-bitch, where's your head? Have you eaten it for supper, or did you leave it at home? Look where you've taken the horse, you parasite! Curse you! There's cabbage planted there!"

Kalina Ivanovich finished up these utterances on his feet, quite a distance from me, brandishing his pipe.

Three hundred metres away, a chestnut-coloured rump could be seen among the grass, but there was no "son-of-a-bitch" in sight. Kalina Ivanovich knew whom he was addressing, though. The meadow was Bratchenko's domain, he was constantly there, unseen, and Kalina Ivanovich's speech was in reality a sort of incantation. After two or three more brief incantations, Bratchenko himself materialized, in keeping with the magical atmosphere, not next to the horse, but just behind us, emerging from the orchard.

"What are you raving about, Kalina Ivanovich? Where's the cabbage, and where's the horse?"

A highly specialized argument ensued, from which, however, it would have been apparent even to the uninitiated that Kalina Ivanovich was quite out-of-date in his views, that he could hardly follow the topography of the colony any more, and had actually forgotten where the field had been cleared to plant cabbages.

The boys allowed Kalina Ivanovich to age in peace. Agricultural affairs had long ago passed exclusively into the hands of Sherre, and Kalina Ivanovich only now and then, by way of meticulous criticism, endeavoured to thrust his old nose into certain chinks in the agricultural armour. Sherre had a way, cool, courteous and jocose, of pinching this nose, and Kalina Ivanovich always beat his retreat.

In our general economy, however, Kalina Ivanovich approached more and more nearly the position of a king, who reigned, but did not rule.

We all recognized his economic majesty and bowed respectfully to his axioms, but we did as we ourselves thought fit. Kalina Ivanovich was not even offended, for he was not a touchy individual, and besides, what he really cared about was philosophizing.

According to long-established tradition, it was Kalina Ivanovich who drove into town, and his journeys were now accompanied by a certain amount of ceremony. He had ever been an advocate of old-fashioned luxury, and the boys were familiar with his utterance:

"Gentlemen keep a grand carriage and a hungry nag, but the good master has a plain cart and a well-fed horse."

The boys would spread fresh hay covered with a clean strip of hand-woven linen on the bottom of the old, hearse-like cart. Then they would harness the best of the horses, and drive up in style to Kalina Ivanovich's porch. All our economic officials and authorities would be doing their jobs --in the pocket of Denis Kudlaty, our assistant manager of supplies, lay a list of all that had to be done in town; Alyoshka Volkov, storekeeper, pushed the necessary boxes, tubs, balls of string, and other necessaries for packing, under the hay. Kalina Ivanovich would keep the cart waiting three or four minutes at his porch, and then emerge in a clean, well-pressed raincoat, put a match to his previously prepared pipe, cast a rapid glance at the horse and cart, sometimes muttering through his teeth huffily.

"How many times do I have to tell you not to go into town in such a disreputable cap! What a stupid lot!"

While Denis changes caps with one of his comrades, Kalina Ivanovich clambers up into his seat, and gives his order:

"Let's be off, then!"

In the town Kalina Ivanovich spends most of his time in the office of some food supply bigwig, holding his head upright, and endeavouring to keep up the honour of that strong and wealthy power, the Gorky Colony. To this end, his talk is chiefly of matters of high political importance.

"The muzhiks have all they want," he would declare. "I can tell you that for a fact."

In the meanwhile Denis Kudlaty, in his borrowed cap, would swim and dive in the economic ocean on the floor below, writing out orders, quarrelling with managers and clerks, loading the cart with sacks and bags, taking care to leave Kalina Ivanovich's place inviolate in the process, feeding the horse, and would burst into the office at three o'clock, covered with flour and sawdust.

"Time to go, Kalina Ivanovich!"

A diplomatic smile would light up Kalina Ivanovich's countenance, he would press the director's hand, and ask Denis in a businesslike manner:

"Have you loaded everything properly?"

On arriving at the colony again, the exhausted Kalina Ivanovich would rest, while Denis, hastily swallowing his lukewarm dinner, would journey to-and-fro along the economic channels of the colony, fussing about like an old woman.

Kudlaty was physically unable to bear the sight of waste--he really suffered if straw was scattered from a cart, if anyone lost a padlock, if a cowshed door hung by one hinge. Though sparing of his smiles, he never seemed cross, and the insistence with which he hunted down anyone wasting economic values was never mere nagging, such was the persuasive solidity and restrained will in his voice. He knew how to deal with careless little chaps who believed, in their innocence, that climbing a tree was the most reasonable expenditure of human energy. Denis could make them come down by a mere movement of his brows.

"Do you think with your head--or what? It'll be time for you to be married, soon, and there you are, perched up in a willow, spoiling your trousers. Come along with me, I'll give you another pair of trousers."

"What trousers?" the little chap would ask, breaking out into a cold sweat.

"Kind of overalls for climbing trees. Who ever saw a person climbing trees in new trousers? Have you ever seen such a person?"

Denis was deeply imbued with the economic spirit and therefore incapable of reacting to human feeling. He could not understand the simple manifestation of human psychology--the little chap had climbed a tree from the very ecstasy inspired by the new trousers he had been given. The trousers and the tree were causally associated, whereas to Denis they were completely incompatible.

Kudlaty's austere policy was, however, a necessity, for our poverty demanded the fiercest economy. Kudlaty was therefore invariably nominated assistant supply manager by the Commanders' Council, and the latter resolutely brushed aside the unmanly complaints of the younger boys as to "unfair" reprisals in regard to trousers. Karabanov, Belukhin, Vershnev, Burun, and other veterans highly appreciated Kudlaty's energy, and submitted without a murmur to the order issued by Kudlaty at a general meeting in the spring:

"Boots to be returned to the storeroom tomorrow, we can go barefoot in the summer."

Denis worked hard in October 1923. The ten detachments of the colony could hardly be got into those buildings which had been put into full repair. In the old mansion, which we called the White House, were the dormitories and classrooms, and in the big hall, which did duty as a verandah, was the carpenters' shop. The dining room was relegated to the basement of the second house, in which were the apartments of the staff. It could not seat more than thirty persons at a time, and so we had to dine in three shifts. The cobblers', wheelwrights' and tailors' shops were huddled into corners quite unlike the halls of industry. No one in the colony had enough space--neither pupils nor staff. And a perpetual reminder of potential prosperity was the two-storey empire-style building in the new orchard, tantalizing us with the spaciousness of its lofty chambers, its ornate plastered ceilings, and the wide, open verandah overlooking the orchard. We had only to put in floors, windows, doors, staircases and stoves, to have splendid dormitories for a hundred and twenty persons, thus freeing other premises for all sorts of pedagogical requirements. But we lacked the six thousand rubles this would have required, and our whole income went on the struggle against the clinging remains of our former poverty, the return to which would have been intolerable for us all. On this front our attack had put an end to the padded jackets, the tattered caps, the camp beds, the wadded quilts handed down from the era of the last Romanov, and the rags for winding around feet. We already had a hairdresser visiting us twice a month, and though he charged ten kopeks for cropping with clippers, and twenty kopeks for a regular haircut, we were able to indulge in the luxury of various styles of haircut. Our furniture, it is true, was still unpainted, we still used wooden soup spoons, and our underclothes were patched, but this was because we converted the greater part of our income into inventory, tools, and other forms of fixed capital.

We did not possess the necessary six thousand rubles, and had no prospect of obtaining it. This sum was continually being brought up--at general meetings, at the Commanders' Council, in Komsomol speeches, or simply in the talk of our seniors and the twittering of the little ones--and in every case it was conceived of as utterly unattainable in its vastness.

At that time the Gorky Colony was under the authority of the People's Commissariat for Education, from which it received small subsidies according to estimates given. The size of these subsidies may be judged from the fact that twenty-eight rubles per head was annually allotted for clothing. Kalina Ivanovich was indignant.

"Who's the clever chap that assigns such a sum? If only I could have a look at his face, just to know what it's like! I've lived threescore years, you know, and I've never seen anyone like that in the flesh--the parasites!"

I also had never seen such people, though I was often at the People's Commissariat for Education. These figures were not drawn up by a live organizer, but obtained as the result of dividing the sum assigned for waifs and strays in the whole country by their number.

And so, for lack of funds, the Red House, as we familiarly called the empire-style building on the Trepke estate, was swept and garnished as for a ball, but the ball itself was postponed indefinitely. Not even the first dancers--the carpenters--had been invited.

Despite this melancholy state of affairs, however, the colonists were far from low-spirited. Karabanov attributed this last circumstance to our belief in diabolical forces:

"The devil will help us, you'll see! We're always lucky--we're love children....you'll see, if not the devil himself, some other evil spirits will come to our aid--a witch, or something.... I simply can't believe that this house will always be an eyesore to us!"

And so a telegram informing us that on the 6th of October we were to be visited by Bokova, an inspector from the Ukrainian Children's Aid, and that we must send a conveyance for her to meet the Kharkov train was considered extremely important news in leading colony circles, and ideas of immediate application to the repairing of the Red House were expressed by many.

"The old woman could get six thousand rubles for us...."

"How d' you know she's old?"

"It's always old women in the Children's Aid."

Kalina Ivanovich was doubtful.

"You won't get anything from the Children's Aid. I know that very well. She'll ask you if you can't take three boys more. And then, you know, women--equal rights for women in theory, but in reality once a woman, always a woman...."

On the fifth, in the domain of Anton Bratchenko, the two-horse phaeton was washed, and the manes of Red and Mary plaited. Guests from the capital were a rarity in the colony, and Anton was inclined to regard them with profound respect. On the morning of the 6th of October I went to the station, with Bratchenko himself in the driver's seat.

Seated in the carriage, in the station yard, Anton and I examined with an attentive eye all the old women coming out of the station, to see if there was one among them who looked as if she came from the Department of Public Education. Suddenly we heard an inquiry from a person who did not seem to be in our line at all.

"Where is this carriage from?"

"We're here on our own business! There are cabs over there," said Anton a trifle gruffly, through his teeth.

"Aren't you from the Gorky Colony?"

Lifting his feet, Anton described a complete circle around his own axis. I, too, was interested.

Before us stood a most astonishing figure-a light-grey coat of checked material, and beneath it a pair of silk-clad legs. The face was smooth and rosy, with the most wondrous dimples in the cheeks; the eyes sparkled, the brews were finely marked. From beneath a lacy scarf peeped out dazzling blonde ringlets. At her back was a porter holding the lightest of luggage--a bandbox and a travelling bag of fine leather.

"Are you Comrade Bokova?"

"You see! I guessed at once you were from the Gorky Colony!"

Anton pulled himself together, shook his head gravely, and carefully gathered up the reins. Bokova skipped lightly into the carriage, from which the smell of trains and station was driven by quite another smell--fragrant and fresh. I reheated into the corner of the seat, greatly embarrassed by this unusual presence.

The whole way Comrade Bokova chattered on the most varied subjects. She had heard a great deal about the Gorky Colony and was simply longing to see what it was like.

"You know, Comrade Makarenko, we have such difficulties--such difficulties!--with these boys. I'm terribly sorry for them, and I should so love to help them somehow. Is this one of your boys? Awfully sweet boy! Aren't you bored here? You know it's awfully boring in these children's homes! We hear such a lot of talk about you. But they say you don't like us."

"Don't like whom?"

"Us--the Social Education Ladies."

"I don't understand."

"They say that's what you call us--ladies Social Education."

"That's news!" I said. "I never called anyone that in my life.., but... it's not bad, really!"

I laughed heartily. Bokova was delighted with the apt designation.

"You know, there's something in it--there are lots of ladies in Social Education. I'm one of them myself. You won't hear anything--er--learned from me. Are you glad?"

Anton kept glancing back from the box, gravely staring from his great eyes at the unusual passenger.

"He keeps looking at me!" laughed Bokova. Why does he look at me like that?"

Anton reddened and, urging the horses forward, muttered something.

When we arrived we were met by the members of the colony and Kalina Ivanovich--all deeply interested. Semyon Karabanov scratched his head, a gesture which betrayed his embarrassment. Zadorov screwed up one eye and smiled.

I introduced Bokova to the boys, who politely took her to show her the colony. Kalina Ivanovich tugged at my sleeve, asking:

"How are we to feed her?"

"I don't know how they're fed," I replied, mimicking his tone.

"I suppose what she needs is plenty of milk. What d' you think, eh?"

"No, Kalina Ivanovich," I said. "She'll need something a little more solid than that."

"What am I to give her? Perhaps we should slaughter a pig? Eduard Nikolayevich'll never let us."

Kalina Ivanovich went off to see to the feeding of our distinguished visitor, and I hastened after Bokova. She was already on friendly terms with the boys and I heard her say:

"Call me Maria Kondratyevna."

"Maria Kondratyevna! That's fine! Well then, look here, Maria Kondratyevna--this is our hothouse. We made it ourselves. I put in a lot of digging there. Look, my hands are still blistered."

Karabanov displayed a hand like a spade to Maria Kondratyevna.

"Don't you believe him, Maria Kondratyevna! He got those blisters rowing."

Maria Kondratyevna kept turning her fair beautiful head, now freed from the scarf, in the most lively manner, but it was obvious that she felt very little interest in the hothouse and our other achievements.

She was shown the Red House, too.

"Why don't you finish it?" asked Bokova.

"Six thousand rubles," said Zadorov.

"And you haven't any money? Poor things!"

"Have you got lit?" Semyon growled out. "Why, then--d' you know what--let's sit down here on the grass!"

Maria Kondratyevna let herself down gracefully on to the grass right in front of the Red House. The boys described to her in vivid colours our crowded way of life, and the luxurious forms our future would take, if the Red House could be restored.

"You see, we have eighty members now, and then we'd have a hundred and twenty. You see?" Kalina Ivanovich approached from the orchard, Olya Voronova following him with an enormous jug, two earthenware mugs, and half a loaf of rye bread. Maria Kondratyevna gasped:

"How lovely!" she exclaimed. "How nice everything is here! Who's that darling old man? He's a beekeeper, isn't he?"

"No, I'm not a beekeeper," said Kalina Ivanovich, beaming. "And I've never been one, but I tell you this milk is sweeter than honey. It's not the work of some wench, but that of the Gorky Colony. You've never tasted such milk in your life--so cold, so sweet." Maria Kondratyevna clapped her hands and bent over the mug, into which Kalina Ivanovich poured milk as if performing a sacred rite. Zadorov hastened to make the most of this interesting incident.

"You have six thousand rubles lying idle, and we can't repair our house. That's not fair, you know."

Maria Rondratyevna gasped from the cold milk, whispering ecstatically:

"What milk! Never in my life.... It's sheer bliss!"

"And what about the six thousand rubles?" said Zadorov, smiling impudently into her face.

"What a materialist that boy is!" said Maria Kondratyevna, blinking. "You want six thousand rubles--and what do I get for it?"

Zadorov looked round helplessly, and threw out his hands, ready to offer all his wealth in exchange for six thousand rubles. Karabanov wasted no time on thought.

"We can give you as much of that sort of bliss as you like."

"Bliss--what bliss?" asked Maria Kondratyevna, all aglow with colour.

"Cold milk."

Maria Kondratyevna fell on her face on the grass and laughed till she cried.

"Oh, no--you don't get round me with your milk!" she cried. "I'll get you six thousand rubles, hut you'll have to take forty children from me--sweet lads, only just now they're a bit, you know, grimy."

The colonists fell serious, Olya Voronova, swinging the jug like a pendulum, looked into Maria Kondratyevna's eyes.

"Why not?" she said. "We'll take forty children."

"Take me where I can have a wash, I need a nap. I'll get you six thousand rubles."

"You haven't seen our fields yet."

"We'll go to the fields tomorrow. All right?"

Maria Kondratyevna stayed three days with us. By the evening of the very first day she knew the names of many of the members of the colony, chattering with them on a bench in the old orchard late into the night. They rowed her in a boat, they swung her on the giant's stride and on the swings, but she had no time to inspect the fields, and could scarcely find time to sign an agreement with me. Under this agreement the Ukrainian Children's Aid undertook to send us six thousand rubles for the repairing the of the Red House, and we undertook, on the conclusion of these repairs, to receive forty homeless children from the Ukrainian Children's Aid.

Maria Kondratyevna was enthusiastic about the colony.

"It's a paradise!" she exclaimed. "You have the most splendid--what shall I call them?"


"N--not angels! People!"

I did not see Maria Kondratyevna off. Bratchenko did not take the driver's seat, and the horses' manes were not plaited. Karabanov, to whose hands Bratchenko entrusted the turnout, sat on the box. His black eyes sparkled, and he seemed to be brimming over with diabolical smiles, which he scattered all over the yard.

"Has the agreement been signed, Anton Semyonovich?" he asked me in undertones.

"Yes," I replied.

"All right, then. I'll show that beauty a ride!" Zadorov pressed Maria Kondratyevna's hand.

"Mind you come in the summer," he said. "You promised, you know."

"I will, I will! I'll take a dacha here."

"Why a dacha? You can come to us."

Maria Kondratyevna bowed all round, bestowing a kind, smiling glance upon all of us.

On his return from the station, Karabanov, unharnessing the horses, seemed worried, and Zadorov listened to him in a worried way, too. I went up to them.

"I told you a witch would help us," said Zadorov, "and that's how it did turn out."

"Maria Kondratyevna isn't a witch!"

"You think all witches are on broomsticks, and have hooked noses! Oh, no! Real witches are beautiful."