A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


The year 1925 began. And it began with unpleasantness.

At the Commanders' Council, Oprishko declared that he wanted to get married, and that old Lukashenko would not give him Marusya unless the colony gave him as good a "dowry" as Olga Voronova had had, and that with such worldly goods Lukashenko was ready to take him into his own home, and they would farm the land together.

At the Commanders' Council Oprishko adopted the unpleasant mien of heir to Lukashenko and a man of position.

The commanders fell silent, not knowing how to take the whole business. At last Lapot, glancing at Oprishko over the point of a pencil which happened to be in his hand, said quietly:

"All right, Dmitro, so what do you think yourself? If you go in with Lukashenko, does it mean you'll become one of the villagers?"

Oprishko looked at Lapot over his shoulder, smiling sarcastically:

"Put it in your own way--a villager."

"And how would you put it?"

"We'll see when the time comes!"

"I see," said Lapot. "Well,--who wants to speak?"

Volokhov, the commander of the sixth detachment, took the floor.

"The boys have to think about their own lives, of course. Nobody's going to stick in the colony all their life. And what qualifications have we? Those in the sixth, or the fourth, or the ninth detachments are more or less all right--they can become carpenters, blacksmiths, or flour mill workers. But nobody gets any qualifications whatever in the detachments working in the fields. So if Oprishko wants to be a peasant, let him. But somehow there's something fishy about him. You're a Komsomol, aren't you?"

"What if I am a Komsomol?"

"It seems to me," continued Volokhov, "that it would do no harm to talk this over in the Komsomol organization first. The Commanders' Council must be told how the Komsomols regard it."

"The Komsomol Bureau has its opinion on this matter," said Koval. "The Gorky Colony does not exist for the purpose of breeding kulaks. Lukashenko's a kulak."

"Why do you call him a kulak?" objected Oprishko. "It doesn't mean anything that he has an iron roof to his house."

"And hasn't he two horses?"

"Yes, he has."

"And a farm hand?"

"No, he hasn't."

"What about Sergei?"

"The Department of Public Education sent him Sergei from a children's home for adoption."

"It's all one," said Koval. "Whether he's from the Department of Public Education or not, he's a farm hand just the same."

"If they give him one..."

"Give! A decent person wouldn't accept one!"

Oprishko, who had mot expected such a reception, said vaguely:

"Why do you go on like this? You gave Olga. ..."

Koval had an answer for him.

"Olga was quite a different proposition. In the first place she married one of our own people, she and Pavel are joining the commune now, and our property will find a good use. And in the second place, as a colonist, Olga was very different from you. And thirdly, it doesn't look well for us to be breeding kulaks."

"And what am I to do, now?"

"Anything you like!"

"No, that won't do!" interposed Stupitsyn. "If they're in love, let them get married. Dmitri can get a 'dowry,' too, so long as he goes not to Lukashenko, but to the commune. Olga will boss the show there."

"Marusya's father won't let her go."

"Let Marusya send her father to the devil."

"She can't do that."

"It means she doesn't love you enough.... She's a kulak, anyhow!"

"What's it to do with you, whether she loves me, or whether she doesn't?"

"You see, it has something to do with us. It means she's marrying you out of interest.... If she loved you...."

"Perhaps she does love me, but she obeys her father. And she can't join the commune."

"Oh, she can't! Then why should the Commanders' Council worry about her?" retorted Kudlaty roughly. "You want to get in with a kulak, and Lukashenko needs a rich son-in-law in his hut. And why should we care? Declare the Council closed."

Lapot grinned delightedly from ear to ear.

"The Council is closed owing to the lukewarm state of Marusya's affections."

Oprishko was dumbfounded. He went about the colony like a thundercloud, bullying the little ones, lnd the next day got drunk and kicked up a row in the bedroom.

The Commanders' Council met to try Oprishko for drunkenness. Everyone was morose, and Oprishko stood morosely leaning against the wall. Lapot said:

"You're a commander, of course, but you're here on a private charge, and you must stand in the middle."

Such was our custom--the accused must stand in the middle of the room.

Oprishko let his morose glance rove over the chairman's face, and muttered:

"I haven't stolen anything, and I'm not going to stand in the middle."

"We'll make you," said Lapot softly.

Oprishko took a look at the Council, and understood that they would make him. Shoving himself away from the wall, he lurched into the middle of the room.

"All right, then."

"Stand at attention!" ordered Lapot.

Oprishko shrugged his shoulders, and smiled sardonically, but he dropped his arms to his side, and drew himself up.

"And now tell us how you dared to get drunk and raise hell in the bedroom--you, a Komsomol, a commander, and a colonist! Tell us!"

Oprishko had always cultivated two styles--he could swagger with the best, with the air of the utmost recklessness, when it suited him, but was in tact at all times a cautious and canny diplomat. The colonists knew him very well, and Oprishko's meekness astonished no one. Zhorka Volkov, commander of the seventh detachment, only recently promoted to the post formerly held by Vetkovsky, waved his hand toward Oprishko, saying:

"There he goes! All of a sudden he's a reformed character! Now he's a lamb, and tomorrow he'll be swaggering about again."

"Wait--let him speak!" growled out Osadchy.

"What d'you want me to say? I've done wrong,--what more can I say?"

"No, you tell us how you dared!"

Oprishko, his eyes gleaming unctuously, stretched out his arms towards the Council.

"What is there to dare about? I drank to drown my sorrows, and when a man's drunk he can't answer for his actions."

"Oh, can't he?" said Anton. "But you will! You're much mistaken if you think you haven't got to. Turn him out of the colony, that's all! And turn out anybody who gets drunk. And no quarter!"

"But he'll be done for!" said Georgievsky, his eyes widening. "He'll be done for out in the streets."

"Let him, then!"

"It was all from grief, you know! Why are you so hard on a fellow? A fellow is grief-stricken, and you bother him with your Commanders Council!" said Osadchy, with a glance of frank irony at Oprishko's virtuous countenance.

"And Lukashenko won't have him without a few odds and ends," said Taranets.

"What's it to do with us?" cried Anton. "If Lukashenko won't have him, let Oprishko find himself another kulak!"

"Why turn him out?" began Georgievsky irresolutely. "He's an old colonist. It's true he's done wrong, but he can reform. And we mustn't forget that he and Marusya are in love. They must be helped somehow."

"What is he--a waif?" asked Lapot, with astonishment. "Why should he have to reform? He's a colonist."

The floor was taken by Schneider, the new commander of the eighth, Karabanov's successor in this heroic detachment. The eighth detachment boasted such giants of strength as Fedorenko and Koryto. With Karabanov at their head, they had successfully rubbed off each other's awkward corners, and Karabanov could propel them into any task, however difficult, which they would fulfil with Cossack gusto, while holding high the banner of the colony's honour. At first Schneider seemed out of place in the detachment. He had come to it undersized, puny, dusky and ringleted. Since the ancient affair with Osadchy, anti-Semitism had never raised its head in the colony, but the attitude to Schneider for long remained an ironical one. Sometimes his combinations of Russian words and forms were truly comic, and he had little skill in field work. But time passed, and gradually new relationships worked themselves out in the eighth detachment: Schneider became the favourite of the detachment, and the Karabanov heroes were proud of him. Schneider showed himself to be a clever lad, with a deep and sensitive spiritual nature. From his great black eyes he would flood with light the toughest detachment dilemma, always finding the right resolution. And while he scarcely added an inch to his stature during his stay in the colony, he became very strong, and developed muscles which enabled him to don without shame the sleeveless vests worn in the summer; and no one had to look after Schneider when the quivering handles of the plough were delivered over to him. The eighth detachment unanimously promoted him to commandership, and Koval and I interpreted this appointment as follows: "We can hold the detachment together ourselves, but Schneider will be its adornment."

The very day after his appointment to the command Schneider showed that he had not passed through the school of Karabanov for nothing, and he seemed determined to maintain as well as adorn his position. Fedorenko, used to the thunder and lightning of Karabanov, became no less used to the calm and comradely adjurations occasionally directed at him by the new commander. And now Schneider spoke:

"If Oprishko had been a new boy he might have been forgiven. But now he must not be forgiven on any account whatever. Oprishko has shown that he doesn't care a fig for the collective. Do you think he won't do it again? You all know he will. I don't want Oprishko to be unhappy. What good would that do us? But let him live without our collective, then he'll understand. And others must be shown that we're not going to have kulak tricks like this. The eighth detachment demands his expulsion."

The demand of the eighth detachment was a decisive factor--there were hardly any new members in the eighth detachment. The commanders looked towards me, and Lapot offered me the floor.

"It's a clear case. Anton Semyonovich, tell us what you think."

"Turn him out," I said briefly.

Oprishko realized that there was no help for him, and threw off the cloak of diplomatic reserve.

"Turn me out? Where am I to go? D'you want me to steal? Do you suppose there's no authority above you? I shall go to Kharkov!"

There was laughter in the Council.

"That's a good one! You go to Kharkov! They'll give you some paper or other, and you'll come back to the colony and live here as a full member. You'll have a fine time, fine time!"

Oprishko realized that he had been talking rank nonsense, and remained silent.

"So only Georgievsky is against," said Lapot, his eyes roving over the Council. "Commander on duty!"


It was Georgievsky, drawing himself up, who a answered to the command.

"Turn Oprishko out of the colony!"

"Very good!"

Georgievsky saluted in the approved fashion, and nodded towards Oprishko to follow him to the door.

A day later we learned that Oprishko was living at the Lukashenko hut. We had no idea what were the terms of the agreement between them, but the boys declared that Marusya had had the final word in the matter.

The winter was drawing to its end. In March the younger boys floated down the Kolomak on drifting ice floes, a pleasure accompanied by duckings which, however inevitable according to the calendar, nevertheless invariably took them by surprise, the forces of nature upsetting them fully dressed from improved rafts, ice floes, land overhanging branches. There was of course the usual number of influenza victims.

But the influenza passed, the mists lifted, and soon Kudlaty was beginning to find padded coats lying about in the middle of the yard, and to make the usual springtime scenes, threatening everyone with shorts and collarless shirts a fortnight earlier than designated by the calendar.