A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


In the beginning of July we got a three-year lease of the mill, at an annual rent of three thousand rubles. It was put entirely at our disposal, free of any partnership whatever.

Our diplomatic relations with the Village Soviet were again severed, and the days of the Village Soviet itself--in its present membership--were numbered. The acquisition of the mill was the victory of our own Komsomol organization, on the second sector of the fighting front.

Almost to our own surprise the colony was becoming appreciably richer, and acquiring the Style of a solid, well-regulated enterprise.

Only a short time before the purchase of a couple of horses had been a strain on our resources, but by the middle of the summer we were well able to assign fairly large sums for cows of good breed, a flock of sheep, and new furniture.

And Sherre, scarcely burdening our budget, had quietly embarked upon the construction of a new cowshed, and almost before we had time to turn round, there was a new building, at once handsome and solid, on one side of the yard, in front of which Sherre laid out flower beds, thus making mincemeat of the notion that a cowshed is a place of dirt and smells. In the new cowshed stood five Simmenthal cows, while one of our own calves, to the general astonishment, and even to that of Sherre, had suddenly developed into a bull known as Caesar, whose extraordinary display of points fairly dazzled us.

Sherre had great difficulty in getting a certificate for Caesar, but his Simmenthal points were so obvious that in the end one was issued. Molodets had a certificate too, and another certificated member of our farmyard was Vasili Ivanovich, a sixteen-pood hog, which I had brought to the colony some time back, from the experimental station--a thoroughbred English hog, named after Trepke the elder.

With these distinguished foreigners as a nucleus it had become easier to start building up pedigreed stock.

The domain of the tenth detachment--the hog-house--had become, under the command of Stupitsyn, a very important establishment, in output and purity of breed ranking second only to the experimental station.

Fourteen strong, the tenth detachment always worked in an exemplary manner. The hog-house was one of those places in the colony as to which no one for a moment entertained the slightest doubt. A splendid Trepke construction of hollow concrete, it stood in the middle of our yard, forming its geometrical centre, but it was so shiny and imposing that it never entered into anyone's head to consider its situation a profanation of the Gorky Colony.

Very few colonists were allowed into it, although newcomers were admitted as members of excursions. In the ordinary way, a pass signed by myself or Sherre was required to get in. And so, in the eyes of the colonists and villagers, the work of the tenth detachment was fraught with mystery, the initiation into which was regarded as a special honour.

Admission to the "waiting room" was comparatively easy to obtain, requiring only the permission of Stupitsyn, the commander of the tenth detachment. Here dwelt baby pigs intended for sale, and here, also, the village sows were brought for coupling.

The fee for coupling was three rubles, for which Ovcharenko, Stupitsyn's assistant and cashier, gave a receipt. And in the waiting room baby pigs were sold at a fixed price by the kilogram, although the peasants endeavoured to convince us that it was ridiculous to sell pigs by weight, that such a thing was unheard-of.

There was always a rush of visitors to the waiting room during farrowing time, for Sherre never kept more than seven pigs from every litter--the first-born and the biggest--giving away most of the others free to pig lovers. Stupitsyn would give instructions on the spot to the recipients of a newly-weaned pig, telling them how to feed it from a rubber teat, what consistency of milk to give, how to wash the pigling, when to put it on a diet of solids. Sucking pigs were only given away on the production of a certificate from the Poor Peasants' Committee, and, since Sherre always knew beforehand when a farrowing was to be expected, there was usually a schedule hanging on the hog-house door, showing when this or that citizen could come for his pigling.

This distribution of piglings spread our fame throughout the district, and we soon had many friends among the villagers. In all the surrounding villages good English hogs and sows were growing up, not fit, perhaps, for breed stock, but capable of fattening up gloriously.

The next section of the hog-house was the "nursery." This was a real laboratory, in which the strictest observation of each individual was maintained before deciding upon his future career. Sherre always had several hundred young ones on hand--their numbers rising in the spring. The colonists knew many of these gifted youngsters by sight, and followed their development with the utmost interest and attention. The most promising were even known to me, to Kalina Ivanovich, to the Commanders' Council, and to many of the colonists. From the day of his birth, for example, the son of Vasili Ivanovich and Matilda was the centre of attention. Born a Hercules, he displayed from the start all the required points, and was destined to follow in his father's footsteps. He did not disappoint our expectations, and was soon placed in a special pen beside his sire, and named Pyotr Vasilyevich, after Trepke the younger.

Still further back came the feeding pen. This was the domain of receipts and weight charts, where bourgeois bliss and quiet reigned supreme. If, on being weaned, certain individuals gave evidence of philosophical doubt, or went so far as to give loud utterance to various philosophical conceptions, in a month's time they would be lying quietly in their straw, meekly digesting their rations. Their biographies would end in compulsory feeding, till a day at last came when an individual was handed over to the authority of Kalina Ivanovich, and Silanti, on the sandy slope near the old park, converted the individual, without a single philosophical qualm, into pork, while at the storeroom Alyoshka Volkov got a barrel ready for the reception of lard.

The very last compartment was the sow pen, but here only the high priests might enter in, so that I myself did not know all the mysteries of this holy of holies.

The hog-house brought us in a good income; we had never counted on becoming, in such a short time, a paying concern. Sherre's crop-raising, regulated to the ultimate detail, provided us with huge fodder reserves--beet, pumpkins, maize, potatoes. It was all we could do in the autumn to get these stocks under cover.

The acquisition of the mill opened wide horizons to us. Besides payment for milling (four pounds per pood) the mill brought us in bran, the most valuable of all fodder for our livestock.

The mill was also significant on another plane--it placed us on a new footing with the whole of the surrounding peasantry, thus enabling us to embark upon a most important and comprehensive policy. The mill was the colony's Foreign Office. It was impossible to make the slightest move without finding ourselves involved in the intricate web of the ever-changing peasant situation. There was a Poor Peasants' Committee in every village, most of them active and disciplined; there were middle peasants, round and firm as a pea, and, like peas, closed up each in his separate compartment and exclusive; there were "bosses," too--kulaks--grown grim in their strongholds, savage with bottled-up fury and sour memories.

Having got the mill into our hands, we announced from the very start that we wished to have dealings with collectives, and that we would give them priority. We asked for a list of collectives to be drawn up in advance. The poor peasants formed such collectives with ease, arrived punctually, obeyed their representatives implicitly, and settled their accounts quickly and quietly, so that the work of the mill ran smoothly. The "bosses" formed small collectives, close-knit, however, by mutual sympathies and the ties of blood. There was a sort of massive silence about their organization, and it was often hard even to make out which were the elders among them.

When, however, companies of middle peasants came to the mill, the work of the colonists became hard labour. They never came together, but straggled in throughout the day. They did have a representative, but he gave in his own grain first, as a matter of course, and immediately went home, leaving behind him a crowd agitated by all sorts of suspicions and vaguely aware of unfairness. Having made the journey an excuse for breakfasting on copious draughts of samogon, our clients displayed strong tendencies to settle on the spot various domestic conflicts; and by dinner-time, after prolonged debate and a certain amount of scuffling, which fairly exasperated the colonists, many of the clients became patients in Ekaterina Grigoryevna's dressing station. Osadchy,the commander of the ninth detachment, which worked at the mill, went purposely to the improvised hospital, to have it out with Ekaterina Grigoryevna.

"Why should you bandage him? As if they could be cured! They're muzhiks--you don't know them! Start curing them and they'll only fall to cutting one another's throats. Hand them over to us--we'll cure them for you! You ought to see what's going on at the mill!"

The truth must be admitted--both the ninth detachment and Denis Kudlaty, the manager of the mill, knew how to cure the squabblers and reduce them to order, in the course of time earning great fame in this respect, and gaining a reputation for infallibility.

Up till dinner-time the lads would stand quietly at the hopper, amidst a raging sea of obscenity, whiffs of samogon, waving arms, the snatching of sacks one from another, endless calculations as to turn, mixed up with other calculations and recollections. When the boys could no longer endure all this, Osadchy would lock the door of the mill and resort to repressive measures. The members of the ninth detachment, clutching three or four of the tipsiest and most abusive in a brief embrace, would seize them beneath the armpits and conduct them to the bank of the Kolomak. With the most businesslike air, sweetly conversing and persuading the while, the colonists would seat their victims on the bank, there, with admirable thoroughness, to throw over them the contents of a dozen pails of water. The victims, at first unable to make out what had happened, would stubbornly return to the subject under discussion at the mill. Osadchyt his sunburnt legs planted wide apart, his hands thrust in the pockets of his shorts, would lend an attentive ear to the patient's mutterings, following his every movement with cold grey eyes.

"Three more 'bloodies'--let him have another three pails." The preoccupied Lapot would provide the amount required, with a sweeping gesture, after which he would look into the patient's face with assumed gravity, just as if he were a doctor.

The patient, at last becoming alive to the situation, would rub his eyes and feebly protest, shaking his head:

"Who gave you the right? Hey! You!" Osadchy would calmly give the order:

"One more dose."

"One more dose of H2O," Lapot would sing out sweetly, pouring a pail of water with cautious thrift over the patient's head, as if it were the last drop of some precious medicine. Bending over the long-suffering, moist chest, he would command, with the same tender anxiety as before:

"Hold your breath....draw a long breath... again--hold your breath."

To the delight of all, the thoroughly bewildered patient would obey Lapot's commands with the utmost docility, now preserving complete immobility, now expanding his abdomen and hiccoughing.... Lapot would straighten himself with a relieved expression.

"Condition satisfactory, pulse 370, temperature 15."

Lapot knew bow to keep a straight face in such cases, and the whole procedure was carried out in a strictly scientific tone. But the lads on the bank of the river, standing there with the empty pails in their hands, could not restrain their guffaws, and a crowd of villagers on the top of the slope would smile in sympathy. Lapot would approach this crowd, and ask, with an air of grave courtesy:

"Who's the next? Whose turn for the water treatment?

" The villagers received Lapot's every word with open mouths, as if it were nectar, beginning to laugh before each word was uttered.

"Comrade Professor," Lapot would say to Osadchy. "There are no more patients."

"Let the convalescents be dried," Osadchy would command.

The ninth detachment would begin zealously laying the patients, now really recovering their senses, on the grass, turning them over in the sunshine.

"Don't! I'll do it myself!" one of them would implore, grinning, his voice now quite sober. "I'm quite well now."

Only then would Lapot laugh, good-humouredly and frankly announcing:

"That one's recovered--he may be discharged!"

Others would go on resisting, even trying to maintain their old formulae: "You go to..." but Osadchy's terse reminder of the pail would bring them to a state of complete sobriety, and they would beg: "Don't! On my honour--swearing's a habit with me--it slipped out!" Lapot would examine such individuals thoroughly, as if their case were the worst of all, while the laughter of the colonists and villagers would pass all bounds, only interrupted in order not to miss some new pearl of speech.

"A habit, you say? Have you had it long?"

"How can you--God forbid!" would reply the patient, blushing and confused, but afraid to make any stronger protest, for the ninth detachment on the bank had not yet put down their pails.

"Not long, you say? And did your parents suffer from swearing?"

"Of course they did," said the patient, smiling foolishly.

"And your grandfather?"

"My grandfather, too."

"And your uncle?"

"Well, of course."

"And your grandmother?"

"Of course she... God forbid! My grandmother--she may not have...."

All the onlookers, and Lapot, too, rejoiced to hear that the patient's grandmother had been perfectly healthy.

Embracing the dripping patient, Lapot would say:

"It'll pass! It'll pass, I tell you! Come and see us more often. We charge nothing for treatment."

The patient, together with his friends and foes, would go off into fits of laughter, but Lapot continued seriously, while turning towards the mill, where Osadchy was already unlocking the door:

"If you prefer it we can visit you in your home. That's gratis, too. But you must apply two weeks in advance, and send horses for the professor. And you must provide the pails and water. I'll treat your father, if you like. Your mother, too."

"His mother doesn't suffer from that illness," someone would say, suppressing his guffaws for the moment.

"I beg your pardon--I asked you about your parents, and you said 'Yes, of course.' "

"I never!" the convalescent would exclaim in astonishment.

The villagers would be frantic with delight.

"Ha-ha-ha! Just fancy! Slandering his own mother!"


"Him--Yavtukh! The one who's ill! Oh, I shall die! Honestly--I shall die! Oh, the swine! And that young fellow--he won't even smile for a moment. A splendid doctor!"

Lapot would be borne back in triumph to the mill, and the order would be given in the engine room to resume work. The atmosphere in which work was now carried on would be the diametrical opposite of what it had been before. The clients would hasten to fulfil all Kudlaty's orders with an almost excessive zeal, each keeping to his turn without a murmur, and greedily drinking up every word uttered by Lapot, whose fund of language and mimicry was positively inexhaustible. By the evening milling was over, and the villagers, affectionately pressing the colonists' hands before getting into their carts, would exultantly revive the memory of their past enjoyment.

"And his grandmother, he says! What a lad! If we could have one such lad for each village, no one would think of going to church."

"Hi, Karpo! Are you dry now?" someone would exclaim. "And how's your head? Everything all right? Your Granny, too? Ha-ha-ha!"

Karpo would smile into his beard in confusion, as he settled the bags on his cart.

"Never gave it a thought," he would say, wagging his head. "And there I am--in the hospital!"

"Come on, now--swear! Or have you forgotten how?"

"Not now, he won't! Perhaps after he gets past Storozhevoye he'll swear at his horse!"


The fame of the ninth detachment's water cure spread far, and our clients would every now and then recall this splendid institution, and show a strong desire to get more closely acquainted with Lapot. The latter would extend his hand with a grave and friendly gesture.

"I'm only the senior assistant. That's the chief professor--Comrade Osadchy."

Osadchy would glance coldly at the visitors. These latter would clap Lapot cautiously on his naked shoulder.

"Assistant? If anybody starts swearing in the Village, now, he's told: Shall we bring you the water doctor from the colony? He's willing to visit us in our homes, you know!"

We soon managed to establish our own atmosphere in the mill. It was lively, cheerful, brisk. Discipline stole about on noiseless feet, always ready, with due caution, to take by the hand anyone chancing to infringe its severe laws, and put him in his place.

In July we organized re-elections to the Village Soviet. Luka Semyonovich and his friends surrendered their positions without a struggle. Pavel Pavlovich Nikolayenko became the chairman and, of the colonists, Denis Kudlaty was elected to the Viillage Soviet.