A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


Bokova did not let us down--we received a money order for six thousand rubles in a week's time, and Kalina Ivanovich went groaning all over the place in a paroxysm of building fever. The fourth detachment under Taranets, which had received orders for making good window frames and doors out of unseasoned wood, was groaning, too. Kalina Ivanovich abused some person unknown:

"May they make him a coffin of unseasoned wood when he dies, the parasite!"

The last act of our four-year struggle with the Trepke ruins had begun. We were all, from Kalina Ivanovich to Shurka Zhevely, seized with the desire to finish the house as quickly as possible. We had to attain, without delay, the goal of which we had so long and consistently dreamed. The lime pits, the tangled weeds, the crooked paths in the park, the rubble and builders' trash all over the yard, were getting on our nerves. And there were only eighty of us. The Sunday Commanders' Councils patiently wrung out of Sherre two or three mixed detachments for the putting in order of our territory. They often got quite cross with Sherre.

"Upon my word, it's going too far! We have no say in anything--it's all cut and dried."

Sherre calmly produced his crumpled notebook, asserting quietly that, on the contrary, everything was behindhand, that there were oceans of work to be done, and that if he gave up two detachments for work in the yard, it was simply because he, too, fully appreciated the necessity of such work, otherwise he would never have given the detachments, but would have set them to sorting seeds, or repairing forcing frames.

The commanders muttered discontentedly, with difficulty finding room in their minds for two conflicting emotions--anger with Sherre for his inflexibility, and admiration for the firm stand he took.

At this time Sherre was just finishing the organization of the six-crop rotation system. All of a sudden everyone seemed to notice how our agricultural undertakings had developed. Some of our colonists were devoted to agriculture, as to their own future, and conspicuous among these was Olya Voronova. But the enthusiasm for the land of Karabanov, Volokhov, Burun and Osadchy, was of an almost purely aesthetic nature. Having, without the slightest thought of personal advantage, fallen in love with farm work, they had gone in for it without a backward glance, connecting it neither with their own future, nor with any of their other tastes. They simply lived and enjoyed life, enjoying each day of intensive work, and looking forward to the morrow as to a holiday. They were confident that all these days were leading them to new and brilliant successes, but what these would be they did not trouble to think. They were all preparing for the Rabfak, but here, also, without any definite aspirations--they did not even know which Rabfak they wanted to enter.

Others there were in the colony who, while fond of farming, took up a more practical stand. Like Oprishko and Fedorenko, these had no desire to study in our school, and, altogether, laid no special claims upon life, considering with goodhumoured modesty that to cultivate the land, to get themselves a good hut, a horse, and a wife, to work in the summer from sunup to sundown, to gather up everything in the autumn, and put it safely away, to settle down quietly in the winter to the enjoyment of fritters and borshch, cheesecakes and lard, to attend, about twice a month, weddings, saints' days, betrothals or birthday gatherings, was a splendid future for a man.

The case of Olya Voronova was quite different. She cast the thoughtful, anxious glance of a Komsomol on our own and our neighbours' fields; for her, the fields suggested problems, as well as fritters.

Our sixty desyatins of land, on which Sherre worked so hard, did not deter him and his pupils from dreaming of big-scale farming, with a tractor, and furrows a kilometre long. Sherre knew how to interest the members of the colony in this subject, and he had a group of permanent listeners. As well as our own people, Pavel Pavlovich, and Spiridon, the secretary of the Goncharovka Komsomol organization, were constant members of this group.

Pavel Pavlovich Nikolayenko, although already twenty-six years old, was not married and according to village standards an old bachelor. His father, old Nikolayenko, had become a substantial kulak under our very eyes, furtively exploiting boy tramps as farm hands, and at the same time posing as an out-and-out poor peasant.

It may have been on this account that Pavel Pavlovich disliked the paternal hearth, and spent most of his time at the colony, where Sherre employed him for the execution of the more responsible work with the cultivators, and where he had almost the status of an instructor in the eyes of our boys. Pavel Pavlovich was well-read, and could listen intelligently and attentively when Sherre spoke.

Both Pavel Pavlovich and Spiridon were apt to turn the conversation towards peasant themes--they could only think of big-scale farming in terms of peasant holdings. Olya Voronova would gaze steadily at them, her brown eyes becoming warm with sympathy when Pavel Pavlovich said quietly:

"I look at it this way--all around people are working, working, hut not the right way. And if they are to work the right way, they must be taught. And who's to teach them? The muzhik? To hell with him--it's hard enough to teach him! Eduard Nikolayevich here, he has reckoned everything up, and told us what to do. That's right! That's the way to work! But those devils will never work like that! They want to work their own way."

"But the colonists work," cautiously interpolated Spiridon, a man with a wide, clever mouth.

"The colonists," smiled Pavel Pavlovich wistfully. "That's something quite different, you know."

Olya smiled, too, joined her hands with interlaced fingers, as if to crack a nut, and darted a mischievous glance at the top of the poplars. Olya's golden plaits tumbled over her shoulders, followed by the grave grey eyes of Pavel Pavlovich.

"The colony folk don't intend to go in for farming, and yet they work, and the peasants spend their whole life on the land, they have children, and all that...."

"Well, and what about it?" said Spiridon, not getting her point.

"Don't you see?" said Olya in a voice of surprise. "The peasants ought to work still better in a commune."

"What makes you think so?" asked Pavel Pavlovich gently.

Olya looked severely into the eyes of Pavel Pavlovich, and he forgot her plaits for a moment, aware of nothing but this severe, almost unfeminine gaze.

"They ought to!" said Olya. "You know what 'ought to' means, don't you? It's as plain as two and two is four."

Karabanov and Burun listened to this conversation. It had merely theoretical interest for them, like all talk about the "muzhiks," from whom they had dissociated themselves forever. But the tenseness of the moment entertained Karabanov and he could not refrain from taking part in the verbal gymnastics.

"Olya's right," he said. "'Ought to' means they must be taken in hand and compelled...." "And how are you going to compel them?" asked Pavel Pavlovich.

"Somehow or other," said Semyon, warming up to the subject. "How does one compel people? By force! Just you hand all your muzhiks to me, and in a week they'll be working like lambs, and in two weeks they'll be thanking me."

Pavel Pavlovich screwed up his eyes.

"And what's your force? A sock in the jaw?"

Semyon flopped down on to the bench laughing, and Burun explained, restrained contempt in his voice:

"Sock in the jaw--nuts! The real force is a revolver."

Olya turned her face slowly towards him, instructing him patiently:

"It's you who don't understand. If people ought to do a thing, they'll do it without a revolver. They'll do it of their own free will. You only have to tell them properly, explain."

Semyon lifted his head from the bench, his eyeballs distended with astonishment.

"Olya, Olya!" he cried. "You're in a regular muddle! 'Explain!' D'you hear that, Burun? Ha! What's the good of explaining, if a chap wants to be a kulak?"

"Who wants to be a kulak?" asked Olya indignantly, opening her eyes wide.

"Who? They all do! Every last one of them. Spiridon, Pavel Pavlovich, all of them!"

Pavel Pavlovich smiled. Spiridod was overwhelmed by the unexpected attack and could only say: "Just fancy!"

"Fancy!" repeated Karabanov. "He's only a Komsomol because he hasn't any land. Just you give him all in one go twenty desyatins, a cow, a sheep; and a good horse,--and there you are! Next thing, he'll be driving you, Olya!"

Burun laughed and backed him up, with an air of authority:

"He will, and Pavlo will, too!

"To hell with you, you bastards!" cried Spiridon, suddenly stung--he reddened and clenched his fists.

Semyon walked around the garden bench, lifting each leg high before he put it down, as an expression of his extreme delight. It was hard to make out if he was in earnest, or just teasing the rustics.

In front of the bench on the grass sat Silanti Semyonovich Otchenash. He had a barrel-shaped head, a red face, a clipped, colourless moustache, and a perfectly bald skull. One seldom comes across people like that now, but lots of them used to rove up and down Russia--philosophers conversant both with the rights of humanity and the taste of vodka.

"It's true, what Semyon says," he said. "The muzhik--he doesn't understand fellowship, as they say. If he has a horse, he wants to have a foal as well--so that there'll be two horses, and that's all he cares. You see how it is!"

Otchenash gesticulated with a gnarled thumb extended from his clenched fist, and narrowed his white-lashed eyes wisely.

"So it means that horses rule men, does lit?" Spiridon asked angrily.

"That's just it--it's the horses who rule, that's what it is. Horses, and cows, you know! And if he has nothing, he's good for nothing but guarding the melon beds. You see how it is!"

Everyone in our commune liked Silanti. Olya Voronova was fond of him, too. And now she bent over him affectionately, while he turned his broadly smiling face towards her, as to a sun.

"What is it, my beauty?"

"You're old-fashioned, Silanti, old-fashioned. And all around is the new."

No one had any idea where Silanti Semyonovich Olchenash came from. He had simply emerged from the cosmos, trammelled neither by conventions nor property. He wore a coarse linen blouse, and ancient ragged trousers pulled on over his bare legs. He did not so much as carry a staff. This free individual had a special charm for the colonists, and they dragged him into my office with the utmost enthusiasm.

Anton Semyonovich--look who's come to us!"

Silanti looked at me with interest, and smiled back at the little boys like an old friend.

"And is this your what's-his-name-your chief?"

I, also, took an immediate fancy to him.

"Have you come to us on business?" I asked.

Silanti rearranged his features, to make them look at once businesslike and inspiring of confidence.

"It's like this, you see," he said. "I'm a worker myself, and you have work and that's all there is to it."

"What can you do?"

"Well, as they say, where there's no money, a man learns to do anything."

He suddenly burst out into frank, merry laughter. The boys laughed with him, and I laughed, too. And it was clear to all that the only thing to do was to laugh.

"And can you do all sorts of work?"

"Well, almost anything....it's like this, you see--" declared Silanti, by now slightly confused.

"But what exactly?"

"I can plough, and I can harrow," began Silanti, checking off his accomplishments on bent fingers, "and then, I can look after horses, and all sorts of livestock, and do-er-what d'you call it--odd jobs of all sort--carpentry and work in the smithy, and stovemaking. And I'm a housepainter, you know, and I can mend boots. If there's a hut to be built, I can do that, too, and I can slaughter a boar. The only thing I can't do is stand godfather--it's never come my way."

He suddenly burst out laughing, so amused that he had to wipe tears from his eyes.

"Never came your way? You don't mean it!"

"Nobody ever asked me, you see--that's what it is!"

The boys laughed wholeheartedly, and Toska Solovyov fairly squealed, reaching on tiptoe towards Silanti.

"Why didn't anyone ever ask you? Why didn't they ask you?"

Silanti became serious, and, like a good teacher, began to explain to Toska: "It's like this, you see, brother," he said. "Whenever there's a christening on foot I think to myself--they'll ask me! And then somebody richer is found, and there you are!"

"Have you got any papers?"'I asked him.

"I did have a paper, quite a short time ago I had a--what's-its-name-document," he said. "But it's like this, you see--I have no pocket, and so, you see, it got lost. But what d'you want documents for, when I'm here myself,--as large as life, you know, standing in front of you?"

"Where did you work before?"

"Where? In all sorts of places! For all sorts of people. Good ones, beasts, all sorts, you know! I tell you straight--I have nothing to conceal--I've worked for all sorts of people."

"Tell me the truth--have you ever gone in for stealing?"

"I'll tell you straight--I've never gone in for stealing. I haven't, and that's the truth! That's how it is, you see!"

Silanti glanced at me in embarrassment. He seemed to think that I might have preferred a different reply.

Silanti stayed to work with us. We tried setting him to work with the livestock for Sherre, but nothing came of our attempt at "organizing" him. Silanti admitted of no limitations whatever in the sphere of human activities-why was he to be allowed to do this, and forbidden to do that? Accordingly, when working for us, he did anything he deemed necessary, just when he deemed it necessary. He regarded all authorities with a smile, and paid no more heed to orders than he would have to speech in a foreign language. In the course of the day he managed to work in the stables, the fields, the hog-house, the farmyard, the smithy, to take part in sessions both of the Pedagogical and the Commanders' Councils. He had an extraordinary gift for discovering, through a sort of sixth sense, the most dangerous spot in the colony, and would be on that spot in a twinkling of an eye, in the role of a responsible person. While rendering nothing to authority, he was always ready to answer for his work, or to submit to abuse and revilings for mistakes and failures. In such cases he would scratch the back of his head and throw out his arms.

"We've made a mess of things," he would admit. "It's like this, you see!"

Silanti Semvonovich Otchenash threw himself into our Komsomol life from his very first day with us, and never failed to hold forth at Komsomol general meetings and at meetings of the bureau. Once he came to me full of righteous indignation.

"Look here," he exclaimed, gesticulating with his thumb, "I went to them--"

"To whom?"

"Oh, to those Komsomols, you know. they wouldn't let me in--it's one of those, you know, closed meetings. I spoke to them nicely--'You cubs,' I said, "if you shut me out, you'll be green to the day of your death. Born a fool-die a fool, and that's all!"'

"And then what?"

"It's like this, you see--either they don't understand, or they're drunk--but no, they're not drunk. I put it to them. Who are you keeping things from? If it's from Luka, or from Sofron, or Moussi, it's right. But how can you keep me out? Perhaps you don't, as they say, recognize me, or perhaps you've gone out of your minds.' It's like this, you see--they wouldn't even listen, just laughed, like, what d'you call it, little boys. You talk seriously to them, and they only make fun, and that's all there is to it."

Together with our Komsomol organization Silanti took part in scholastic affairs also.

The first result of the regular Komsomol regime was to set our school on its feet. Till then it had dragged out a somewhat wretched existence, incapable of overcoming the detestation of study felt by many of our members.

This was, it must be admitted, quite comprehensible. The first days of the Gorky Colony had been a time of recuperation from the bitter experiences of their homeless days. In those days modest dreams of becoming shoemakers and carpenters formed a refuge in which overstrained nerves could regain their tone.

The dazzling progress of our collective, and its triumphant fanfare on the shores of the Kolomak did much to bolster up the members of the colony in their own eyes. With very little difficulty we were able to advance in the place of modest shoemaking ideals the fair and moving symbol:


At that time the word Rabfak had quite a different significance from that which it now bears. It has become simply the title of a modest scholastic institution. Then it was a banner standing for the deliverance of working-class youth from darkness and ignorance, vivid assertion of the new right of man to knowledge. And all of us at that time regarded the Rabfak with what can only be described as tender emotions.

In practice this is how things worked out: by the autumn of 1923, aspirations towards the Rabfak had got a hold on almost all our charges. These aspirations had crept into the colony unnoticed, as far back as 1921, when our women teachers had persuaded the ill-starred Raissa to go to the Rabfak. Many Rabfak students from among the youth of the engine works used to come and see us. The colonists would listen enviously to their stories of the heroic days of the first Rabfaks, and this envy helped them to receive our own propaganda work for the Rabfak with greater warmth. We urged our charges towards school and learning with the utmost insistence, speaking of the Rabfak as of the most glorious path a human being could take. But entry into the Rabfak was associated in the eyes of the colonists with an examination of insuperable difficulty, only to be passed, according to eyewitnesses, by prodigies. We had great difficulty in convincing our pupils that it was possible to prepare for this terrible ordeal in our school, too. Many of them could have gone into a Rabfak by now, but were prevented from doing so by vague fears, and they decided to remain Let another year at the colony, so as to make quite sure of their preparedness. Such was the ease of Burun, Karabanov, Vershnev, Zadorov. We were particularly impressed by the scholastic ardour of Burun. He hardly ever required encouragement. With silent determination he wrestled with the difficulties of arithmetic and grammar, and even with his own limitations. The merest trifles--a law of grammar, or an arithmetical problem of a certain type-required his utmost exertion, accompanied by much puffing, panting and sweating, but never by irritation or any doubt of the outcome. He was possessed of the fortunate illusion that knowledge was a supremely difficult and brain-taxing thing only to be acquired by extraordinary efforts. He failed, in some miraculous manner, to remark that others took all these difficulties in their stride, that Zadorov never expended a single moment on study beyond the ordinary school hours, that Karabanov gave himself up to dreams having no connection with his studies even during lessons, inwardly brooding over some trifle of colony life, instead of the problem or the exercise. And at last the time came when Burun was ahead of his comrades, when their brilliant flashes of knowledge appeared but a small thing in comparison with his own solid erudition. Marusya Levchenko was the exact opposite of Burun. She brought with her to the colony an intolerably quarrelsome disposition, noisy hysteria, suspiciousness, and tearfulness. We went through a lot on her account. She was capable, with a kind of drunken abandon and the sweeping impetuosity of a neurotic, to smash into smithereens in the place of a single minute the most precious things--friendship, success, a fine day, a bright, calm evening, the most cherished and the most radiant hopes. There were many cases in which it seemed that there was nothing for it but to take pails of cold water and mercilessly pour them over this intolerable creature, with her eternal, idiotic outbreaks of fire.

The steady resistance of the colony, expressed in terms far from tender, and frequently almost cruel, taught Marusya to control herself, but then she began with the same morbid obstinacy to mock at and torture herself. She had a splendid memory and was clever and extremely goodlooking; there was a deep flush on her dusky cheeks, her great black eyes seemed to emit flames and lightning from beneath the disarming surprise of a calm, pure intelligent forehead. But Marusya was convinced that she was hideous, that she was "a fright," that she understood nothing, and never would understand anything. She attacked the simplest of tasks with preconceived resentment.

"Nothing will come of it, anyhow!" she would exclaim. "You keep on at me--study, study! Teach your Buruns! I'll go out as a servant! What's the good of torturing me, if I'm not good for anything?"

Natalya Markovna Osipova, a sentimental being with angelic eyes and an almost exasperatingly angelic temperament, would melt into tears after working with Marusya.

"I'm fond of her," she would say, "and I do want to teach her, but she sends me to the devil and says it's disgraceful how I pester her. What am I to do?"

I transferred Marusya to the group of Ekaterina Grigoryevna, though I myself feared the consequences of this step, for Ekaterina Grigoryevna placed simple and straightforward demands on people.

Three days after the beginning of term, Ekaterina Grigoryevna brought Marusya to me, closed the door, seated her pupil, who wlas trembling with rage, on a chair, and said:

"Anton Semyonovich! Here's Marusya--you decide what's to be done with her! The miller happens to need a servant. Marusya thinks she'll never be fit for anything but service. Let her go to the miller! But there's another alternative: I guarantee to prepare her for the Rabfak by the autumn, she's very capable."

"The Rabfak, of course," I said.

Marusya sat on the chair, watching Ekaterina Grigoryevna's calm face from eyes full of hatred.

"But," continued Ekaterina Grigoryevna, "I can't have her insulting me during lessons. I'm a toiler myself, and I'm not to be insulted. If she ever again uses the word 'devil,' or calls me an 'idiot,' I won't work with her."

I understood Ekaterina Grigoryevna's move; but all moves had been tried with Marusya, and my pedagogical imagination no longer burned with the least enthusiasm. I cast a weary glance at Marusya and said, without the slightest affectation:

"Nothing will come of it! She'll go on with her devils and fools and idiots. Marusya has no respect for others, and such an attitude isn't going to pass all at once...."

"I do respect others!" Marusya interrupted me.

"No, you have no respect For anyone," I said. "But what's to he done about it? She's our charge. This is the way I look at it, Ekaterina Grigoryevna: you're a grown-up, wise, experienced person, and Marusya's a bad tempered little girl. Let's not allow ourselves to be upset by her. We'll let her have her own way--let her call you idiot, let her even call you a beast--that's happened too, hasn't it?--and you just take no notice. It'll pass. Do you agree?"

Ekaterina Grigoryevna, smiling, looked at Marusya, and said simply:

"All right. That's the way. I agree."

Marusya's black orbs, shining with tears of mortification, were fixed steadily on me; suddenly she covered her face with her kerchief, and ran weeping from the room.

A week later I asked Ekaterina Grigoryevna: "How's Marusya doing?"

"She's all right. She holds her tongue, but she's very cross with you."

And the next day, late at night, Silianti came to me with Marusya, saying:

"I could hardly drag her to you, as they say. You see, Marusya's very hurt with you, Anton Semyonovich. You just have a talk with her."

He moved modestly to one side. Marusya let her head droop.

"I haven't got anything to say to you," she said. "If they think I'm mad, let them!"

"What are you hurt with me about?'' I asked.

"I won't be thought mad!"

"But I don't think you mad."

"Why did you say that to Ekaterina Grigoryevna?"

"Oh, well, I was wrong, there. I thought you'd use all sorts of bad language to her."

Marusya smiled.

"But I don't swear at her."

"You don't? It means I was wrong. Somehow I thought you would."

Marusya's exquisite face lit up with a cautious, mistrustful joy:

"You're always like that--jumping on a person!"

Silanti stepped forward, gesticulating with his cap.

"Don't go on at a fellow! There's a whole lot of you, as they say, and only one of him. What if he did make a little mistake, you shouldn't be offended with him."

Marusya glanced gaily and quickly into Silanti's face.

"You're a blockhead, Silanti!" she said in a ringing voice. "Even if you are an old man!"

And she ran out of the office. Silanti waved his cap.

"That's the way it is," he said.

Suddenly he smote his knee with his cap and burst out laughing.

"So that's the way it is, damn the little brat!"