A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


Spring set in with our Gorky celebrations. But there was a particular sphere in which we had long been feeling the awakening of spring.

Our theatrical activities did much to create contacts between the members of the colony and the village youth, and at certain points of contact, emotions and plans not provided for by social-educational theories revealed themselves. The colonists posted by the will of the Commanders' Council in the most dangerous places--6-S Mixed, in which the letter "S" stood eloquently for the word "spectators"--were the greatest sufferers.

Those colonists who performed on the stage as members of 6-A Mixed (actors) were inevitably sucked in by the "poisonous quagmire" of the theatre. They frequently experienced, on the stage, moments of romantic uplift, and experienced, too, stage love, but precisely because of this they were spared for a certain time the threes of so-called first love. The members of the other 6-Mixed detachments were protected by equally helpful elements. In 6-SE Mixed, the boys were always handling violent explosives, and Taranets was hardly ever without a bandaged head, owing to injuries sustained during his innumerable pyrotechnical experiments. In this mixed detachment, too, love seemed to take no root, for the deafening noise made by exploding steamers, bastions, and ministers' carriages enthralled the hearts of its members, and the "sullen, smouldering flames of passion" could find no place there. Nor could these flames burn in the bosoms of boys moving furniture and scenery--the process which the pedagogues love to call "sublimation" being too strongly developed in their case. Even the heating detachment, whose activities were carried on in the very thick of the audience, were protected from the arrows of Cupid, for no Cupid, however gay and irresponsible, would have dreamed of aiming at these coal-smeared, smoke-grimed, black-faced figures.

It was the members of 6-S Mixed who were in the greatest danger. These would go about among the public in the best suits the colony ha, and I would rate them for the slightest sign of slovenliness. The corner of a clean handkerchief peeped out coquettishly from their breast pockets, their hair was always a model of elegance, they had to be as courteous as diplomats, and as attentive as dentists. And, thus equipped, they easily fell victims to the spell of those charms which they know almost as well how to prepare in the villages of Goncharovka, Pirogovka, and the farmstead of Volovy, as they do in Parisian beauty parlours.

The first meetings at the door of our theatre during the checking of tickets and the search for places were innocuous: the masters and organizers of these marvellous performances, with their moving words and their miracles of technique, seemed to the girls fascinating and remote, almost inaccessible, so much so, indeed, that the villlaige Romeos themselves, sharing this admiration, did not suffer the pangs of jealousy. But another performance came round, and another, and another, and the story that is as old as the world was repeated. Paraska of Pirogovka or Marusya of the Volovy farmstead soon discovered that the combination of rosy cheeks, shining eyes, eyebrows dark or fair, and a print dress of dazzling newness and fashionable cut, together with the almost Italian music of the Ukrainian "I," as produced by girlish lips, was infinitely more potent than the Gorkyites' scenic skill, or any technique whatsoever. And when all this was put into action, nothing was left of the inaccessibility of the colonists. There came a time when a colonist came to me after a performance with the insincere request:

"Anton Semyonovich, may I see the girls from Pirogovk home--they're afraid to go alone."

Such a phrase was a rare conglomeration of lies, since, both the supplicant and myself knew very well that nobody was afraid of anything, and nobody needed to be seen home, and the plural number--"girls"--was a gross exaggeration. Besides, no permission was required. At a pinch the escort of the timid spectator would be carried out without permission.

For these reasons I gave permission, suppressing in the depths of my pedagogical soul a distinct sensation of discrepancy. Pedagogics, as is well known, flatly denies love, considering that this "dominant" only comes up when educational methods have proved a failure. In all times, and among all peoples, pedagogues have detested love. I, too, felt a jealous displeasure when some colonist, missing a Komsomol or general meeting, contemptuously throwing down his book, neglecting all the qualities of an active and class-conscious member of a collective, refused obstinately to recognize any other authority but that of a Marusya or a Natasha--beings immeasurably beneath me in pedagogical, political or moral respects. But I believed in thinking things over, and was in no hurry to claim rights of any sorts for my jealousy. My comrades in the colony, and still more the workers in the Department of Public Education, were more resolute than I was, and were greatly irritated by the unforeseen and unprovided-for intervention of Cupid.

"This must be resolutely opposed."

These discussions were always a help, for they threw light on the situation: one must depend on one's own common sense and the common sense of life. Dreaming was no good. If we were rich, I would marry off the colonists, and populate our neighbourhood with married Komsomols. What harm would there be in that? But it was a long way to such a consummation. Never mind! Even a poor life can offer suggestions. I did not persecute the lovelorn with pedagogical interference, the more so that they never exceeded the bounds of propriety. In a moment of frankness Oprishko showed me a photograph of Marusya-obvious proof that life was getting on with the business, while we were still meditating.

In itself, the photograph told little. A broad, snub-nosed face looked out at me, adding nothing to the average Marusya type. But on the other side was written in an expressive schoolgirl's hand: "To dear Dmitri from Marusya Lukashenko. When this you see, remember me!"

Dmitri Oprishko sat there on his chair, openly exhibiting himself to the whole world as a lost soul. There were only a few miserable traces left of his once sprightly bearing, even the jaunty forelock had disappeared from his head, and was virtuously and neatly flattened down. His brown eyes, formerly lighting up so quickly at a witty word, or at a chance for romping and laughing, now expressed nothing but peaceable domestic cares, and submission to a tender fate.

"What d'you mean to do?"

Oprishko smiled.

"It'll be hard without your help. We haven't told her father anything yet. Marusya's afraid. But her father likes me all right--in a general way."

"Very well--we'll wait and see!"

Oprishko went away, quite satisfied, carefully hiding the portrait of his beloved against his breast.

The plight of Chobot was still sadder. He was a gloomy passionate individual, without a single distinctive trait. He had signalized his entry into the colony by a conflict involving the use of knives, but had since then steadily submitted to discipline, though always holding aloof from the seething centres of our life. He had an inexpressive, colourless countenance, vacant-looking even in moments of anger. He attended school under compulsion, and learned to read with the utmost difficulty. But I liked his mode of expression--a sort of great and simple rightness always made itself felt in his spare utterances. He was one of the first to be received into the Komsomol organization. Koval had a definite opinion of him:

"He'll never be able to give lectures, and he won't do for propaganda work, but give him a machine gun, and he'll die before he lets go of it!"

The whole colony knew that Chobot was passionately in love with Natasha Petrenko. Natasha lived in the home of Moussi Karpovich, ostensibly as his niece, but in reality as a simple farm hand. Moussi Karpovich did allow her to go to the theatre, but she was very poorly clad: a badly fitting skirt worn out long ago by someone else, gnarled boots, not her size, and an old-fashioned, dark, pleated blouse. We never saw her in any other attire. Such clothing made a pitiful scarecrow of Natasha, but this only brought out the attractiveness of her face. From the rust-coloured aureole of a tattered, soiled shawl there looked out, not so much a face, as the highest embodiment of innocence and purity, and a kind of child-like smiling confidence. Natasha never pulled faces, never expressed anger, indignation, suspicion, or grief. All she could do was to listen earnestly, her thick black lashes quivering almost imperceptibly the while, or to smile frankly and attentively, showing delightful small teeth, with one of the front ones slightly awry.

Natasha always came to the colony with a flock of girls, and was conspicuous against the affected boisterousness of this background by her simple, childlike reserve and good spirits.

Chobot invariably went to meet her; sitting glumly beside her on a bench, he was unable to embarrass her, or make any change in her inner life. I could not believe that this child was capable of loving Chobot, but the boys contradicted me in unison:

"Who? Natasha? Why, she'd go through fire and water for Chobot without a moment's hesitation!"

As a matter of fact we did not have much time to indulge in love affairs just then. The season was upon us when the sun would start its annual offensive, blazing away eighteen hours a day. Sherre, too, as if imitating the sun, imposed so much work upon us that we could only puff and pant wordlessly, remembering ruefully that only the previous autumn we had approved his sowing plan with great enthusiasm at the general meeting. Officially Sherre was supposed to have a six-field crop rotation system, but in reality it was a much more complicated affair. Sherre sowed hardly any grain crops. He had about seven hectares of winter wheat, besides a smallish field sown with oats and barley in some remote part of the estate, and he kept a bit of land for experimental purposes; on this plot he had sown some unheard-of species of rye, which, he declared, would keep the peasants guessing, for they would never recognize it as rye. So far it was we and not the peasants who were puzzled. Potatoes, beet, melons, cabbage, a veritable plantation of peas sprang up in many varieties, very hard to distinguish from one another. The boys used to say that Sherre was spreading a regular counterrevolution in the fields.

"He has kings, tsars, and queens all over the place!" they would say.

And indeed, Sherre, dividing all the plots by ideally straight boundary lines and hedges, used to stick small boards on wooden posts, with an inscription on each board to show what was sown and how much. The colonists, probably those who protected the crops from cows, one morning stuck their own signboards next to Sherre's, a trick which wounded Sherre grievously. He demanded an emergency Commanders' Council, and--a most unaccustomed thing from him--shouted at us.

"Sheer nonsense and tomfoolery! I name the varieties the way they're always named. If a variety is called 'King of Andalusia,' that's its name all over the world, and I can't think up names for myself. It's simply hooliganism! Why did they have to butt in with their General Beet, Colonel Pea, and their Captain Melon and Lieutenant Tomato?"

The commanders smiled, not quite knowing how to deal with vegetable battalions. They asked in a businesslike way:

"Who's responsible for this silly trick? First they're kings, and then just captains and God knows what?"

The boys could not help smiling, although they stood in a certain awe of Sherre. Silanti understood the tenseness of the conflict, and endeavoured to relieve it.

"It's like this, you see: a king that can be eaten, as they say, by cows, can't be dangerous--let him remain king."

Kalina Ivanovich, too, sided with Sherre:

"What's the row about? You want to show that you're true revolutionaries, you want to fight the kings, to cut off the heads of the parasites--is that it? Don't worry--we'll give you each a knife, and you shall cut away till you're all of a sweat."

The colonists knew what this meant, and accepted the declaration of Kalina Ivanovich with profound submission. With this, the matter of counterrevolution in our fields came to an end, and when Sherre transplanted two hundred rosebushes in front of the main building, with the inscription "Snow Queen," not a single colonist raised a protest. Karabanov merely said:

"Queen or not, it doesn't matter, so long as she smells nice."

It was the beet that gave us the most trouble. Candidly speaking, this is an obnoxious crop--easy enough to sow, but maddening to look after. Hardly does it show itself, with slow langour, above ground when it has to be weeded. The first weeding of beet is a tragedy. Young beet cannot be distinguished by a novice from a weed, and Sherre demanded senior colonists for this weeding, while these same seniors expostulated:

"What--weed the beet? Haven't we done enough weeding in our day?"

After the first weeding comes the second. The thoughts of all are turning towards cabbages and peas, and the time for haymaking is in the offing, when, lo and behold! Sherre calmly writes in his Sunday application: "forty persons for weeding the beet."

Vershnev, the secretary of the Council, reads this cool request to himself indignantly, and twangs with his fist on the table.

"What's this? Again the beets? When will it be over, confound and blast it! Perhaps you've given in an old application by mistake?"

"A new application," said Sherre calmly. "Forty persons, and seniors, please."

Maria Kondratvevna, who had taken a hut for the summer in our neighbourhood, was present at the Council, and the dimples in her cheeks peeped out playfully at the indignant colonists.

"How lazy you are, you boys! But you like beetroot in borshch, I'm sure!"

Semyon bent his head and declaimed with expression:

"In the first place, it's fodder beet, confound it! In the second place, why don't you come and help us weed it? If you do us the favour of working just one day, then I promise to get up a mixed detachment to work at the beet until we finish the blasted thing!"

Maria Kondratyevna smiled at me for sympathy, motioning with her head at the colonists:

"Just look at them!"

Maria Kondratyevna was on leave, and so she could be met with in the colony during the daytime too. But in the daytime it was dull in the colony, the boys, grimy, dusty, tanned, only coming back for dinner. Throwing their hoes into Kudlaty's corner, they would leap from the steep shore with the impact of Budyonny's cavalry, unfastening their shorts on the way, till the Kolomak was alive with their heated bodies, shouts, games and pranks. The girls squealed from the bushes on the shore:

"Come on, you've had enough, go away now! Fellows! Hi, fellows! It's our turn now!"

The monitor would pace the shore with an anxious face, and the lads drawing the still warm shorts on to their wet limbs, with drops of water shining on their shoulders, would gather about the tables set around the fountain in the old garden. Here they had long been awaited by Maria Kondratyevna, the only person in the colony preserving a white human skin and unbleached curls. This made her seem extraordinarily well-groomed in our crowd, and even Kalina Ivanovich could not refrain from remarking it.

"A fine figure of a woman, you know--she's wasted here, Anton Semyonovich! You shouldn't look at her so theoretically! She regards you as a human being, and you pay her no attention, just as if you were some muzhik."

"For shame!" I said to Kalina Ivanovich. "The only thing lacking is for me to go in for love affairs in the colony."

"Go on with you!" said Kalina Ivanovich in his old man's croak, lighting his pipe. "Mark my words, you'll be left out in the cold!"

I had no time to go in for theoretical and practical analysis of Maria Kondratyevna's qualities, and perhaps for that very reason she kept inviting me to tea, and was so offended when I courteously assured her:

"But I don't like tea--really I don't!"

One day, after dinner, when the colonists had all gone off to their work, Maria Kondratyevna and I remained at the table, and she said to me with simple friendliness:

"Listen to me, Diogenes Semyonovich! If you don't come to me this evening I shall consider you very rude."

"What have you got? Tea?"

"I have ice cream, d'you understand, ice cream, not tea! I'm making it specially for you."

"All right," I said reluctantly. "What time shall I come for ice cream?"

"At eight."

"But I have to take the commanders' reports at half past eight."

"Now he's a martyr to pedagogics! Very well, then--come at nine."

But at nine o'clock, immediately after the reports, when I was sitting in my office and regretting that I had to go for ice cream and had not time to shave, Mitka Zhevely came running up, crying out:

"Anton Semyonovich--come quick!"

"What's up?"

"The boys have brought Chobot and Natasha. That grandpa--Moussi Karpovich, you know...."

"Where are they?"

"Over there, in the garden."

I hastened to the garden. On a bench in the alley of lilacs was the terrified Natasha, surrounded by a crowd of our girls and women. The boys formed groups all down the alley, discussing something eagerly. Karabanov was holding forth:

"And quite right! A pity he did not kill the swine!"

Zadorov was trying to soothe the trembling, weeping Chobot.

"It's not so terrible! Here's Anton--he'll set everything right."

Interrupting one another, they told me the following story.

Moussi Karpovich had decided to punish Natasha, perhaps for forgetting to dry some squares of homespun, or something of that sort, and had already struck her twice with the reins when, just at that moment, Chobot came in. It was hard to discover exactly what Chobot had done--Chohot was silent--but neighbours from the farmstead, and some of our colonists, had come running at the sound of Moussi's cries and found the latter in a state of collapse, covered with blood, huddled terrified in a corner. One of Moussi Karpovich's sons was in an equally distressing condition. Chobot himself was standing in the middle of the hut, and in the words of Karabanov, snarling like a dog. Natasha was found later in the hut of a neighbour.

All this had led to certain negotiations between the colonists and the farmstead folk. Signs were not wanting that in the process of these negotiations fists and certain other forms of defence had not been neglected, but the boys said nothing of this, only narrating with dramatic emotion:

"We didn't do anything special, we just gave--er--first-aid after the accidents, and Karabanov said to Natasha: 'You come to the colony, Natasha, don't you be afraid, you'll find good people in the colony, you know, we'll see to all this.' "

I invited all the participants in this affair into my office.

Natasha gazed seriously from wide-open eyes at surroundings so novel to her, and the traces of her fear could only have been discerned in imperceptible movements of her lips, and in one hot tear gradually cooling on her cheek.

"What's to be done?" said Kanabanov vehemently. "This business has got to be settled!"

"Let's settle it then!" I said.

"Marry them!" proposed Burun.

"There'll be plenty of time to marry them," I replied. "That's not what we have to do just now. We have a perfect right to take Natasha into the colony. Does anyone object? Quiet, now--don't shout so! We have room for the girl. Kolya, enter her in tomorrow's order for the fifth detachment."

"Very good!" barked Kolka.

Natasha suddenly flung off her dingy shawl, and her eyes blazed like flames in the wind. She ran up to me, laughing joyfully, as only children laugh.

"Really-truly? In the colony? Oh, thank you, Uncle!"

The boys covered their emotion with laughter. Karabanov stamped on the floor:

"How simple! So simple...damn it all... in the colony, of course! Just let them try and touch a colonist!"

The girls joyfully carried Natasha off to the bedroom. The boys went on chattering for a long time. Chobot, who was sitting opposite me, tried to thank me.

"I would never have believed it! Thank you for defending such an insignificant person! And a for getting married--that can wait!"

We discussed the occurrence late into the night. The boys cited similar cases, Silanti gave his opinion, and Natasha was brought to be shown to me in colonist attire, no bride, but just a tender little maiden. Last of all Kalina Ivanovich came in and summed up the evening's events as follows:

"There's nothing to make a fuss about! So long as you haven't cut a man's head off, he's alive, and so everything's all right. Come to the fields--you'll see for yourself! Those kulaks are as meek as Moses, now--they couldn't be quieter than they will be when they're dead and in their coffins."

It was past midnight when Kalina Ivanovich and I set out for the meadows. The warm still night seemed to be listening attentively to Kalina Ivanovich's words. The poplars, taut, spruce, faithful to their long-standing passion for keeping rank, kept watch over our colony, thinking their own thoughts. Perhaps they were astonished at the changes which had taken place all around them. They had originally drawn up to form a guard for the Trepkes, and now they were expected to keep watch over the Maxim Gorky Golony.

Maria Kondratyevna's hut, from the midst of a grove of poplars, looked straight at us from its darkened eyes. Suddenly one of its windows opened quiietly, and someone jumped out of it. He started in our direction, but stopped for a moment, and plunged into the woods. Kalina Ivanovich broke off in his description of the evauation of Mirgorod in 1918, and said quietly:

"That's Karabanov, the parasite! He's practical, you see, not merely theoretical. And you--educated man--are left out in the cold."