A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


On the 26th of March we celebrated the anniversary of A. M. Gorky's birthday. We kept other anniversaries too, but of these later. We tried to have our celebrations well attended, and our tables well provided, and the colonists, it must be said, enjoyed celebrating, especially preparing for it. But Gorky's birthday had a particular charm for us. On that day we welcomed in the spring. That was one thing. Sometimes it would happen that the boys would set out the festive boards--out of doors, of course!--so that we could all sit together and feast, when suddenly a hostile gust would come from the east, keen, cruel sleet would come down, the puddles in the yard would wrinkle over, and the drums, all drawn up to salute the colours in honour of our celebrations, would be damp. Just the same a colonist would give a squinting glance towards the east land say: "How it smells of spring!" There was one feature of our Gorky celebrations which we invented ourselves and of which we were inordinately proud and fond. The colonists had long ago determined that we would celebrate on that day "with all our might," but that we would not invite a single outsider. Anyone taking it into his head to come, would be a welcome guest, just because he had come on his own initiative, but this was a family holiday, and there was no part for outsiders in it. And truly, everything was always very simple and intimate, drawing the Gorkyites still closer, although there was nothing domestic about the forms of the celebrations themselves. We began with a parade, solemnly bringing out the banner; speeches were made, and then there was a solemn march past the portrait of Gorky. After this we sat down to table and--I will indulge in no false modesty!--while we did not drink to the health of Gorky, we did eat-and how! Kalina Ivanovich, rising from the table, would say:

"I see now that we were wrong to blame the bourgeois, the parasites! After such a dinner, you know, even a dumb animal wouldn't work, let alone a human being."

Our menu was as follows--borshch, but it was no ordinary borshch: a borshch such as a housewife only makes for the name day of the head of the family; then pies, stuffed with meat, cabbage, rice, cream cheese, potatoes, and cereals, and every pie was such a size, it could not even have got into a colonist's pocket; after the pies came roast pork, not bought in the market, but from our own herd, raised by the tenth detachment since the autumn, specially for the Gorky celebrations. The colonists knew how to look after a herd of pigs, but nobody wanted to slaughter one--even Stupitsyn, commander of the tenth, refused.

"I can't kill it! I'm sorry for it! Cleopatra is such a good pig!"

Cleopatra was slaughtered, of course, by Silanti Otchenash, who explained his actions as follows:

"Let our enemies eat dead pig--we'll kill, as they say, the good ones! That's how it is!"

After the dispatch of Cleopatra, we could well have done with a rest, but big and little bowls of thick sour cream made their appearance on the table, and at their sides, piles of cheesecake fritters. And not a single colonist was in a hurry to rest, but, on the contrary, gave full attention to the fritters and sour cream. And after the fritters came fruit jelly, and not served, as for the gentry, in saucers, but in soup plates, and I nowhere observed a colonist eating his jelly without bread or a pie. It was only after this that dinner was considered over, and every one on rising from the table received a bag of sweets and spice-biscuits. In this connection, also, Kalina Ivanovich spoke a true word:

"Oh, if only Gorkies were born oftener!"

After dinner the colonists did not retire to test, but set off in Mixed Sixth to prepare for the performance of The Lower Depths--the last play of the season. Kalina Ivanovich took a great interest in the performance.

"We'll see, we'll see what sort of a play this is. I've heard a lot about these here depths, but I've never seen them. And somehow I've never had the chance to read the play."

It should be remarked that in this case Kalina Ivanovich greatly exaggerated the chance nature of his bad luck: for in reality he was barely able to penetrate the mystery of reading. However, Kalina Ivanovich iis in high spirits today, and it would be a shame to cavil at him. The Gorky anniversary was celebrated this year with a new feature: on the suggestion of the Komsomol organization, the title of "Colonist" was first introduced. Both the colonists and the teaching staff discussed this innovation long and seriously, and at last agreed that it was a good iidea. The title of "Colonist" was only given to those who truly valued the colony, and worked for its improvement. But those who lagged behind, who complained, muttered, or played truant, would remain mere "charges." It must be admitted that there were not very many of these--not more than about twenty. Older members of the staff also received the title of "Colonist." At the same tiine it was resolved: if a staff member did not receive this title during the first year of work, he would have to leave the colony.

Each colonist received a nickel-plated badge, made to our special order in a Kharkov factory. The badge was in the form of a life belt, inscribed with the letters "M.G."[Maxim Gorky], and on top was a red star.

On this day, Kalina Ivanovich, too, was given a badge at the parade. He was extremely happy about this, and did not conceal his delight.

"Long as I served that there Nikolai Alexandrovich, [Tsar Nicholas II] all I got for it was to be made a hussar, and these tramps, the parasites, have given me a medal! And there's nothing to be done about lit--it's quite a pleasure, you know! See how it is when they get state power into their hands! They go naked themselves, but they give one a medal!"

Kalina Ivanovich's happiness was somewhat damped by the unexpected arrival of Maria Kondratyevna Bokova. A month before, she had been appointed to our Gubernia Department of Social Education, and while she was not our immediate chief, she still to a certain extent kept her eye us.

While descending from the hired cab, she had noted with astonishment our festive tables, at which those colonists who had served up the dinner were finishing the feast. Kalina Ivanovich hastened to profit by her astonishment and disappear unnoticed, leaving me to pay for his sins too.

"What are you celebrating?" asked Maria Kondratyevna.

"Gorky's birthday." "Why didn't you invite me?"

"We don't invite any outsiders for this day. It's our custom."

"Give me some dinner, anyhow."

"That we can do. Where's Kalina Ivanovich disappeared to?"

"Oh, that awful old man! The beekeeper? Was it he who ran away from me just now? And you were mixed up in this wretched affair, too! They're always teasing me in the Gubernia Department of Public Education, now. The commandant says he'll dock two years off my pay. Where's that Kalina Ivanovich? Send him here!"

Maria Kondratyevna made a cross face, but I could see that Kalina Ivanovich was in no special danger. Maria Kondratyevna was in a good humour. I sent a colonist for him. Kalina Ivanovich approached, bowing from afar.

"Don't you come any nearer!" laughed Maria Kondratyevna. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself! It's simply awful!"

Kalina Ivanovich seated himself on a bench and said:

"We did a good deed."

I had been the witness of Kalina Ivanovich's crime the week before. He and I had gone to the Department of Public Education and visited the office of Maria Kondratyevna on some trifling business. She had a huge office, crammed with furniture made of some special sort of wood. In the middle of the office was Maria Kondratyevna's desk. She was extremely popular: round her desk there was invariably a crowd of typical Department-of-Education people, with one of whom she would be talking, while another butted in on the conversation and a third simply listened: others would be using the telephone, writing at one side of the desk, reading; somebody's hand would be pushing a paper for signature towards her, and, in addition to all these busy ones, there would be a whole lot of people just standing about and talking. The room was always full of chatter, smoke, and litter.

Kalina Ivanovich and I were sitting on a sofa discussing business of our own. Suddenly a thin, violently agitated woman burst into the office, and started pouring out a stream of words into our ears. With the utmost difficulty we made out that it was something to do with a kindergarten, in which there were plenty of children, and a very good method, but no furniture. It was, apparently, not the first time that the woman was here, for she expressed herself with great energy, and displayed not the slightest respect for the department.

"Confound them, they organize a whole town of kindergartens, and don't give us any furniture. What are the children to sit on, I ask! They told us--come today, you'll be given furniture. I've dragged my children three versts, and brought the carts, and there's nobody here, and no one to complain to. Disgraceful, I call it! I've been coming here a whole month. And look how much furniture she has herself--and what for, I ask you?"

Loud as the woman's voice was, none of those standing round Maria Kondratyevna's desk paid the slightest attention to her, very likely no one heard her, owing to the noise going on in the room. Kalina Ivanovich had a good look at the furniture, slapped the sofa with his hand, and asked:

"Am I right, Comrade, in considering that this furniture would suit you?"

"This furniture?" repeated the woman joyful3y. "Why, this is lovely furniture!"

"What's the trouble, then?" said Kalina Ivanovich. "Since it suits you and is standing here useless, just take this furniture away for your children."

The eyes of the excited woman, hitherto fixed attentively on Kalina Ivanovich's countenance, suddenly roiled in their sockets, and once again fixed themselves on Kalina Ivanovich.


"Quite simply--take it away and put it on your carts."

"Good heavens--and then what?"

"If it's documents you're worrying about, take no notice--there'll be plenty of parasites to write you out more papers than you want yourself. Take it away!"

"And supposing they ask me--who shall I say gave me permission?"

"Say I allowed you."

"So you give me permission?"

"Yes--I do!"

"Good heavens!" groaned the woman ecstatically, and fluttered out of the room like a moth.

A moment later she fluttered back, this time accompanied by about a score of children. These flung themselves upon chairs, armchairs, little seats, and couches and, not without trouble, dragged them through the doors. The whole room was filled with the clatter they made, and at last Maria Kondratyevna became alive to it. She stood up at the desk and asked:

"What are you up to, there?"

"We're taking this out," said a dusky-skinned little chap, dragging a chair along with the help of a comrade.

"Can't you do it a little more quietly?" said Maria Kondratyevna, and once more plunged into her Department-of-Education affairs.

Kalina Ivanovich cast a glance of mock consternation in my direction.

"Did you ever see such a thing? The kids, the parasites, mean to carry off all the furniture!" I had long been gazing with delight upon the abduction of Maria Kondratyevna's office furniture, and could not find it in my heart to be indignant. Two boys dragged at the sofa from beneath us, and we allowed them the fullest liberty to take it, too. The preoccupied woman, after describing the last few circles around her charges, ran up to Kalina Ivanovich, seized his hand, and pressed it with emotion, gazing lovingly into the smiling, embarrassed face of this noble individual.

"Do tell me your name! I must know. You've simply saved us!"

"What d'you want to know my name for? They don't offer prayers for the living any more, and it's a bit early to hold a burial service."

"Oh, but do tell me!"

"I don't like to be thanked, you know."

"Kalina Ivanovich Serdyuk is the name of this good man," I said with feeling.

"Thank you, Comrade Serdyuk, thank you!"

"You're welcome! But take it away as quick as you can, or someone might come and countermand everything."

The woman flew off on wings of ecstasy and gratitude. Kalina Ivanovich righted the belt of his greatcoat, cleared his throat, and lit his pipe.

"Why did you tell her? It was nice the way it was. I don't like it, you know, when people thank me too much. But I should like to know if they get away with it!"

In a short time Maria Kondratyevna's visitors dispersed themselves among the other rooms of the department, and we were given an audience, Maria Kondratyevna had soon done with us, and, glancing round absent-mindedly, wondered aloud:

"Where can they have taken that furniture, I should like to know! They've left me an empty office."

"They've taken it to a kindergarten," said Kalina Ivanovich gravely, leaning against the back of his chair.

It only came out two days later, quite by chance, that the furniture had been carried off with the permission of Kalina Ivanovich. We were summoned to the Department of Public Education, but we were in no hurry to go.

"I'm not going there about a lot of miserable chairs!" Kalina Ivanovich had said. "I've got enough troubles of my own!"

And so, for all these reasons, Kalina Ivanovich felt distinctly embarrassed in the presence of Maria Kondratyevna.

"We did a good deed. What does it matter?" "Aren't you ashamed of yourself? What right had you to give permission?"

Kalina Ivanovich turned courteously on his chair.

"I have the right to allow anything, just like any other man. I allow you, for instance, to buy yourself an estate, I allow you, and there's an end of it! Buy one! And take one for nothing, if you like, I allow you to do that, too!"

"But I, too, can give permission," said Maria Kondratyevna, glancing round. "Permission, let's say, to carry off all these stools and tables."

"You can!"

"And then?" insisted Maria Kondratyevna in some embarrassment.

"Then nothing!"

"D'you mean--just take them and carry them off?"

"And who'll take them?"

"Somebody or other."

"Oh-ho! Let him try! I'd like to see the state he'd be in himself when he takes them!"

"He wouldn't be able to drive, he'd have to be driven!" said Zadorov, smiling. He had been standing behind Maria Kondratyevna for a long time.

Maria Kondratyevna blushed, looked up at Zadorov, and asked awkwardly:

"Do you think so?"

Zadorov exposed all his teeth in a broad smile.

"That's how it seems to me," he said.

"A highwayman philosophy," said Maria Kondratyevna. "Is that the way you bring up your charges?" she said to me, severely.

"More or less."

"What sort of an upbringing do you call that? Taking furniture out of an office--is that right? What are you bringing them up to be? If things are lying about, it means you can take them-- is that it?"

A group of colonists was listening to us, a lively interest in the conversation displaying itself on their faces. Maria Kondratyevna grew hot, and I could make out a note of suppressed hostility in her voice. I had no desire to continue the argument in this direction. I said peaceably:

"Let's talk this question out thoroughly, one day! After all, it's a very complicated one."

But Maria Kondratyevna would not give in.

"What's there complicated about it? It's very simple--yours is a kulak education."

Kalina Ivanovich realized that her irritation was serious, and seated himself closer to her.

"Don't get angry with an old man like me," he said. "Only you mustn't say that--kulak! Our pupils are Soviet-bred. Of course I was only joking. I thought: the owner is here, she'll laugh, and that's all, and perhaps it'll make her see that the children have no chairs. But the owner is a bad one--her furniture is carried off under her very nose, and now she's looking for the culprits --kulak education!"

"And your pupils would do the same, it means?" said Maria Kondratyevna, her resistance, however, weakening.

"Let them do the same!"

"But why?"

"To teach careless owners, that's why!"

Karabanov emerged from the crowd of colonists, and extended towards Maria Kondratyevna a stick, on which a snow-white handkerchief was tied--the colonists had all been given clean handkerchiefs in honour of the celebrations.

"It's no good, Maria Kondratyevna, you'd better raise the white flag!"

To my surprise, Maria Kondratyevna laughed and her eyes sparkled.

"I surrender, I surrender! You don't have kulak education, nobody swindled me, I surrender. the Ladies' Social Education surrenders!"

That evening, when, attired in someone else's leather jacket, I clambered out of the prompter's box, Maria Kondratyevna sat in the gradually emptying hall, observing attentively the last movements of the colonists. Toska Solovyov called out, in his high treble:

"Semyon, Semyon, have you given in your costume? Give in your costume before you go!"

He was answered by Karabanov's voice:

"Tosechka, you poor fool--I acted Satin!" [A character in mere rags from Gorky's The Lower Depths.--Tr.]

"Oh, Satin! Then keep it as a souvenir."

Volokhov was standing at the edge of the stage and shouting into the dark:

"Galatenko, that won't do--the stove must be put out."

"It'll go out itself," replied Galatenko in his sleepy hoarse voice.

"Put it out, I tell you! You heard the order-the stoves mustn't be left burning."

"Order, order!" grumbled Galatenko. "I'll put it out."

A group of colonists on the stage were taking the dosshouse beds to pieces, and someone was humming the song from the play.

"These boards must go to the carpenters' shed tomorrow," Mitka Zhevely reminded somebody, and suddenly he shouted: "Anton! Hi, Anton!"

Bratchenko replied from the wings:

"Here I am! Don't bray--you're not an ass!"

"Will you give me a cart tomorrow?"

"All right!"

"And a horse?"

"Can't you draw it yourself?"

"Not strong enough!"

"Don't they feed you enough oats?"


"Come to me--I'll give you plenty."

I approached Maria Kondratyevna.

"Where are you going to sleep?"

"I'm just waiting for Lydochka. She's removing her make-up, and then she'll take me to her room. Anton Semyonovich, your colonists are dears, but they work too hard. It's very late, and they're still working, and I can just imagine how tired they are. Can't you give them something to eat? Or at least the ones who have worked."

"They've all worked, and there isn't enough to go round."

"Well, then, you yourself and your teachers. You acted today, and it was ever so interesting. Why shouldn't you get together and sit and talk, and, well, and have a bite? Why not?"

"We have to get up at six, Maria Kondratyevna."

"Is that the only reason?"

"It's like this," I said to this dear good woman. "Our life is much tougher than you think. Much tougher!"

Maria Kondratyevna meditated. Lydochka jumped down from the stage, saying:

"It was a good performance today, wasn't it?"