A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


In the middle of April our Rabfak students came to us for the spring holidays.

They arrived lean and pallid, and Lapot recommended handing them over to the tenth detachment to be fattened up in the feeding section. I was glad they did not try to show off their student ways in front of the colonists. Karabanov had hardly time to greet everyone before he was running about the farm and the workshops. Belukhin, the little ones hanging round him, told us about Kharkov and the life of the students.

In the evening we sat down beneath the starry sky and discussed the problems of the colony in the good old way. Karabanov was extremely displeased by our latest events.

"It was right to do it, of course," he said. "Since Kostya said he didn't like it here, then you did right--to hell with him, let him find something better! And Oprishko's a kulak, that's obvious, and his place is among kulaks. But still, when you come to think of it, there must be something wrong. We must think it over. In Kharkov, you know, we've seen a different sort of life. Life's different there, and people are different."

"And here in the colony--are our people bad?"

"The people in the colony are good," said Karabanov, "very good. But just look round, and you'll see there are more kulaks every day. How can the colony go on living here? You have to keep on snapping and snarling, or else make off."

"That's not the point," drawled Burun thoughtfully. "We must all fight the kulaks. That's a special matter. That's not the point just now. The point is that there's nothing to do in the colony. There are a hundred and twenty colonists, plenty of workers--and what is the work? Sowing and harvesting, sowing and harvesting. Oceans of sweat for a very small result. It's all so petty.... Another year of it and the boys will be bored and start yearning for something better."

"Grisha's right!" Belukhin moved closer to my side. "Our fellows, the waifs, as we're called, are proletarians, it's industrial work they need. Of course, it's jolly and all that to work in the fields, but what do we get out of the fields? If we go into the village, it means we join the petty bourgeoisie, that seems a shame, and then one can't go empty-handed to them, one has to own the means of production--a hut, a horse, a plough, and all that. It won't do to get oneself taken into a kulak family like Oprishko. And where are we to go? There's nothing but the engine-repair works, and the workers there don't know what to do with their own children."

All the Rabfak students threw themselves joyfully into work in the fields, and the Commanders' Council, with exquisite courtesy, appointed them commanders of mixed detachments. Karabanov returned from the field in a state of great excitement.

"Oh, how I love work in the fields! What a pity that there's no sense in it, damn it! Wouldn't it be nice if you could work in the fields, and reap, and have textiles growing up, and boots, fields of machines, tractors, accordions, spectacles, watches, cigarettes waving in the wind.... My, my!...Why didn't the rotters consult me when they made the world!"

The Rabfak students were to spend the First of May with us. This added much to a holiday that was in itself a joyful one for us.

The colony was before woke up in the morning to the sound of the bugle, and the mixed detachments set off into the field in marching order, never looking back, or wasting energy on analyzing life. Even the most backward ones--Evgenyev, Nazarenko, Perepelyatchenko, and a few others--had begun to catch up with the rest, and were no longer a worry.

By the summer of 1925, the colony had grown into a perfectly compact collective, and moreover a very healthy-spirited one--from the outside, at any rate. But Chobot was an obstacle to our progress, and I could not manage him.

Returning from his visit to his brother in March, Chobot told us that his brother was fairly prosperous, but that he had no farm hands--he was a middle peasant. Chobot did not ask the colony for any help, but raised the question about Natasha.

"What's the use of talking to me," I said. "Natasha must decide for herself."

A week later he came to me again, in a state of the utmost excitement.

"I can't live without Natasha! Talk to her--tell her to come with me!"

"Listen, Chobot, you're a funny chap! It's you who must talk to her--not me!"

"If you tell her to go, she'll go, but when I do, nothing comes of it, somehow."

"What does she say?"

"She doesn't say anything, she just cries."

Chobot gazed at me tensely alert. It was of importance for him to see what impression his communication had made on me. I could not conceal from him that it had made a painful impression.

"That's no good," I said. "I'll have a talk with her."

Chobot looked at me from bloodshot eyes, looked into the very depth of my being, and said hoarsely:

"Talk to her. But bear in mind--if Natasha doesn't come I'll do away with myself!"

"What's this idiotic talk?" I shouted at him. "Are you a man or are you a mere milksop? You ought to be ashamed of yourself "

But Chobot did not let me finish what I was saying. He flopped on to the bench, and wept tears of inexpressible grief and despair. I regarded him in silence, laying my hand on his burning forehead. Suddenly he leaped up, seized me by the elbow, and poured out a current of hurried, confused words:

"I'm sorry... I know I'm a nuisance... but there's nothing else I can do ... you see I'm the sort of chap ... you see everything and know everything ... I'll go down on my knees ... I can't live without Natasha!"

I spent the whole night talking to him, and feeling all through the night my own helplessness. I told him of the great life, the bright prospects, the variety of human happiness. I talked to him about the need of carefulness and planning, of Natasha's need to study, her remarkable gifts, how she would help him, too, and must not be buried in a remote Bogodukhov village, where she would die of boredom. But none of this reached Chobot's consciousness. He listened to my words morosely, and only whispered:

"I'll work my head off, I'll do anything, if only she'll come with me!"

I left him in his former state of confusion, a being who had lost his controls and brakes. The next evening I asked Natasha to come to me. She heard my short question out with the merest vibration of the eyelashes, then lifted her eyes to my face, and said, in a voice of the most brilliant purity, quite devoid of any shame:

"Chobot saved me...but now I want to study."

"So you don't want to marry him, and go with him?"

"I want to study. But if you tell me to go, I'll go".

I looked once again into those clear, open eyes, intending to ask her whether she knew what Chobot's mood was. But somehow I could not, and said instead:

"All right, you go quietly to bed."

"So I'm not to go?" she asked childishly, holding her head a little on one side.

"No, you're not to go, you're to study," I replied moodily, and fell to thinking, so that I did not even notice how she went quietly out of the office.

Chobot I saw the next morning. He was standing at the main entrance to the White House, obviously waiting to see me. I invited him into the office with a nod of my head. He followed my movements in silence as I was fidgeting with the keys and drawers of my desk, and then said suddenly, as if to himself: "So Natasha's not going!"

I glanced up at him, and realized that he was aware of nothing but his loss. Leaning one shoulder up against the door, he fixed his gaze on a pane of glass in the top corner of the window, and whispered something.

"Chobot!" I shouted.

He did not seem to hear me, but straightened himself and went away without looking back at me, silent and light-footed as a ghost.

I kept my eye on him. After dinner he took his place in the mixed detachment. In the evening I called his commander, Schneider.

"How's Chobot?"

"He's keeping mum."

"How did he work?"

"Commander of the mixed detachment Nechitailo says he worked well."

"Don't take your eyes off him for the next few days. If you notice anything, tell me immediately."

"I know--of course I will," said Schneider.

Chobot maintained silence for several days, but went about his work, and made his appearance in the dining room. He seemed to shun me.

On the eve of the holiday I gave an order entrusting him personally to put up slogans on all the buildings. He conscientiously got out the ladder and came to me with a request.

"Give me an order for nails."

"How many?"

He raised his eyes to the ceiling, whispered something, and replied: "A kilogram will be enough, I think.

I checked up on his work. He was conscientiously and carefully straightening the slogans, and saying to his comrade on the next ladder:

"Higher ... a little more.... That'll do.... Nail it on!"

The colonists were fond of holiday preparations, and loved the First of May best of all, because it was a spring holiday. But this year the First of May arrived in a sorry state. It had been raining the day before from the early morning. It would stop for half an hour, and start drizzling again, a fine, dull, persistent rain, as in the autumn. But in the evening the stars began to twinkle in the sky, and the only spot of gloom was a dull, dark-blue bruise in the west, which cast an unfriendly, dingy shadow over the colony. The colonists ran all over the place so as to be finished before the meeting with all sorts of jobs--costumes, the hairdresser, the bath, clean linen. On the fast-drying porch the drummers were cleaning the brass fittings of their instruments with chalk. These were tomorrow's heroes.

Our drummers were very unusual. These were no half-baked performers of Pioneer detachments, producing a confused torrent of sound. Not for nothing had the Gorky drummers been having lessons for six months from the regimental performers, and nobody but Ivan Ivanovich had protested.

"They have an appealling method, you know--appalling!" he told me.

Ivan Ivanovich, his eyes transfixed with horror, described this method to me. It consisted in a marvellous jingle, in which figured a wench, tobacco, cheese, and tar, and one other word which is unquotable, but did yeoman service in the drumming line. This "appalling method" did its business, and the marches of our drummers were distinguished by beauty and expressiveness. There were several of them--"The March," "Reveille March," "March of the Colours," "Review March," "Fighting March," and each has its particular ttills, its sharp neat staccatoes, muffled tender rumblings, sudden explosive phrases, and playful dance rhythms. Our drummers did their work so well that even inspectors from the Department of Public Education, upon hearing them, were forced to admit that they did not introduce any particularly alien ideology into the cause of social education.

In the evening, at the meeting of the colonists, we checked upon our preparedness for the holiday, and only one detail could not be finally elucidated --would there he rain tomorrow? There were facetious proposals to include in the order for the day: the monitor is expected to guarantee good weather. I said I was sure it would rain, and Kalina Ivanovich and Silanti, and other weather experts were of the same opinion. But the colonists protested against our fears, shouting:

"Well, what if it does?"

"You'll get wet."

"We're not made of sugar, are we?"

I was compelled to take a vote on the question whether we were to go to town if it rained from the morning. Three hands were raised against, one of which was my own. The meeting laughed triumphantly, and someone yelled:

"Our side wins!"

After this I said:

"Remember now, it's been resolved we're to go, even if it rains rocks."

"Let it!" shouted Lapot.

"See you don't whine, then! You may he very brave today, and tomorrow droop your tails and whine: 'Oh, it's wet! Oh, it's cold!...' "

"Do we ever whine?"

"That's settled then--no whining!"

"Very good--no whining!"

Morning confronted us with a grey, lowering sky, and gentle, treacherous rain, sometimes increasing into waterspouts and flooding the earth, and then once more silently drizzling. There was not the slightest hope of sunshine.

In the White House I was met by the colonists in marching array; they peered with curiosity into my face, but I assumed a stony mask, and soon ironical reminiscences began to be heard here and there: "No whining!"

The standard-bearer was sent to me, evidently by way of reconnoitering.

"Are we to take the banner?"

"How can we go without the colours?"

"You see--it's raining."

"D'you call that rain? Keep the cover on till we get to the town."

"Very good!" said the standard-bearer meekly.

At seven o'clock the bugles were sounded. The column set off for the town punctually to schedule. It was ten kilometres to the centre of the town, and with every kilometre the rain increased in its strength. We found no one in the town square, it was obvious that the demonstration had been cancelled. On the way back the rain had become a torrent, but we no longer cared: everyone was wet through, and the water was pouring out of my boots as from a brimming pail. I halted the column, and said to the boys:

"The drums are wet--let's have a song. I must draw your attention to the fact that some of the ranks are in bad order, marching out of step, and another thing--you must hold your heads higher."

The colonists roared with laughter. The rain was running in rivulets down their faces.


Karabanov started off with a song that seemed so highly appropriate to the situation that the song, too, was met with laughter.

"Things are getting worse and worse,
But we don't give a tinker's curse."

By the second round the song was taken up and sent floating out over the deserted, rainflooded streets.

Chobot marched by my side in the first row. He neither sang nor took any notice of the rain, staring stubbornly ahead of him at some point beyond the drummers, and quite unaware of my steady observation of him.

When we got past the station I allowed them to break ranks. No one had a single dry cigarette or wad of plug tobacco, and so everyone pounced upon my leather cigarette ease. I was surrounded, and reminded proudly:

"Still, nobody whined!"

"Wait a bit, the rocks will begin to come down when we get round that corner-then what'll you say?"

"Rocks won't be so good, of course," said Lapot. "But there are worse things than rocks--machine guns, for example."

Before entering the colony grounds we again lined up, formed ranks, and resumed our singing, although it was extremely difficult for the singers to drown the increasing noise of the pouring rain, while, like a pleasant surprise, like a salute to us on our return, the first thunder of the year pealed out. We entered the colony with heads proudly erect, at a brisk march. As always, we saluted the colours, and only then all made to run for the bedrooms. But I shouted out to them: "Long live the First of May! Hurrah!" The boys tossed their wet caps into the air, shouting, and, not waiting for the command, rushed up to me. They tossed me up into the lair, and fresh streams of water ran an to me from my boots.

An hour later, yet another slogan was nailed up in the club. There were only two words written on a lengthy streamer: "No Whining!"