A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


One more summer came round. Once more, keeping place with the sun, we went into the fields in mixed detachments, once more the fourth mixed, the Red Banner detachment, was called into action, Burun, as always, at its head.

The Rabfak students came to the colony in the middle of June, bringing with them, as well as their triumph at having got their removes, two new members--Oksana and Rakhil--who, as colonists, had no choice in the matter and were bound to come to the colony. And with them came the Chernigov girl, a creature remarkably blackbrowed and black-eyed. Her name was Galya Podgornaya. Semyon took her to the general meeting of the colonists, showed her to everyone, and said:

"Shura wrote to the colony that I had taken a fancy to this Chernigov lass. It's all nonsense, word of a Komsomol, it is! The thing is Galya hasn't any what you might call territory to go to in the holidays. Judge us, Comrade Colonists, who's in the right, and who's, perhaps, in the wrong." Semyon seated himself on the ground--the meeting was being held in the park.

The Chernigov girl gazed in amazement at our society--barelegged, bare-armed, and some practically naked. Lapot pursed up his lips, narrowed his eyes, blinked his great, smooth eyelids, and said huskily:

"Be so kind, Comrade Chernigovka, as to tell us ... er ... that ... er. ..."

The Chernigova and the whole meeting pricked up their ears.

"...er... do you know 'Our Father'?..."

The Chernigov girl smiled, somewhat flustered, blushed, and answered hesitatingly: "No."

"Aha! You don't!" Lapot pursed his lips still more, and again blinked. "And do you know the 'I believe in'?"

"No, I don't."

"M'hm! And could you swim the Dnieper?"

The Chernigov girl looked away in confusion.

"I couldn't say. I'm a good swimmer, I think i could...."

Lapot turned to the meeting with an expression like that on the countenance of a fool trying hard to think: lips pouted, eyelids blinking, one finger raised, nose in the air--and all without the faintest hint of a smile.

"So we'll sum up as follows: 'Our Father' she knows not, 'I believe in'--ditto. She can swim the Dnieper. Or perhaps she can't?"

"She can!" shouted the meeting.

"All right. If she can't swim the Dnieper, can she at least swim the Kolomiak?"

"She can! She can!" yelled the laughing boys.

"So it means she'll do for our Knights-of-the-Dnieper Colony?"

"She'll do!"

"Which unit?"

"The fifth!"

"In that case put sand on her head, and take her to her unit."

"I say!" shouts Karabanov. "It was only atamans that had sand put on their heads...."

"Tell me, oh Cossack!" said Lapot, addressing Semyon. "Does life develop, or does it not?"

"It develops, of course. What about it?"

"Why, formerly only the chief atamans got their heads sprinkled with sand, and now every body does."

"Aha!" said Karabanov. "Quite right!"

The idea of going to the Zaporozhye Region had come to us after a letter from Dzhurinskaya, in which she communicated to us vague rumours of a plan for a big children's colony to be organized on the island of Hortitsia, adding that she had heard that the People's Commissariat for Education would like the Gorky Colony to be its nucleus.

No detailed working out of this plan had as yet been begun. Dzhurinskaya replied to my inquiries that a final decision could not be expected for some time, everything depending on the plans for the Dnieprostroy.

We had no clear idea as to what was going on in Kharkov, but a great deal was going on in the colony. It would be hard to say what the colonists dreamed of--the Dnieper, the island, the wide fields, or some factory. Many played with the idea of a steamer of our own. Lapot teased the girls by saying that, according to an old tradition, women were not allowed on the island of Hortitsa, so that something would have to be arranged for the girls on the banks of the Dnieper.

"Never mind," Lapot consoled them. "We'll visit you, and when we want to hang ourselves, we can do it on the island--it'll he much nicer for you."

The Rabfak students took part in the jokes and dreams about our inheriting an island on the Dnieper, and gave themselves up willingly to the spirit of play, which they had not yet quite outgrown. The colony laughed till it cried as it looked on, evening after evening, at the broad parodies of life on the Dnieper enacted in the yard--for which purpose most of them made a thorough study of Taras Bulba. [Gogol's novel an the life of the Zaporozhye Cossacks.-Tr.] The imitative powers of the boys were inexhaustible. Now Karabanov would appear in the yard in trousers made from the stage curtain, and deliver a lecture on the way to make such trousers, which, according to him, required a hundred and twenty arshins of stuff. Now the terrible execution of a Dnieper Cossack accused by the community of theft, would he enacted. Heroic efforts were made to keep the legendary tradition intact: the execution had to be carried out by rods, while only he who had previously drunk up a tankard of vodka was entitled to wield the rod. For lack of a "tankard of vodka" for the executioner, a huge pot of water was substituted, more than the thirstiest soul alive could have drunk up. Another time the fourth mixed, setting out for work, would bring a mace and a bunchuk to Burun. The mace would be made of a vegetable marrow, and the bunchuh of bast, but Burun had to accept all these honours with respect, and bow to all the points of the compass.

Thus passed the summer. The Dnieper project was still only a project, and the boys had even become tired of playing at it. In August the Rabfak students went away, taking with them a new consignment. Five commanders had left our ranks, but none left behind him such a gaping wound as did the commander of the second detachment, my closest friend and one of the original members of the corky Colony--Anton Bratchenko who had after all gone to the Rabfak. Osadchy, too, who had cost me so dear, left. He had been the most arrant bandit, and now he was going to the technological Institute at Kharkov, a slender, handsome youth, tall, strong, reserved, filled with a kind of peculiar virility and force. It was of him that Koval said:

"There's a Komsomol for you--Osadchy! It's sad to have to part with such a Komsomol."

It was quite true. For the last two years Osadchy had borne on his shoulders the complex responsibilities of the commandership of the mill detachment--a task fraught with endless cares and necessitating incessant reckonings with the villagers and the Poor Peasants' Committee.

Georgievsky too--the son of the Irkutsk governor, who had never been table to wash out the blot on his escutchcon, although in the official forms stood the words: "parents unknown"--was leaving us.

And Schneider, the commander of the glorious eighth detachment, and Marusya Levchenko, commander of the fifth, were both going.

The moment we had seen off the Rabfak students we noticed how very juvenile the Gorkyite society had become. In the Commanders' Council itself were boys only recently belonging to the juniors--in the second detachment Vitka Bogoyavlensky; in the third, in the place of Oprishko, Kostya Sharovsky; in the fifth--Natasha Petrenko; in the ninth--Mitya Zhevely; while at last the huge Fedorenko achieved commanderhip in the eighth detachment. Georgievsky handed over the junior detachment, after three years of uninterrupted leadership, to Toska Solovyov.

Once again we dug for beet and potatoes, spread straw in the stable, sorted and put away grain for the spring sowing, once again the first and second mixed detachments went ploughing, this time without any competition. And only then did we get an official permit from the People's Commissariat for Education in Kharkov to inspect the Popov estate on the Dnieper.

The general meeting of the colonists, on hearing my communication and handing the paper from the People's Commissariat for Education from one to another, felt that this was a serious matter. For we had another paper in our possession in which the People's Commissariat for Education requested the Zaporozhye Regional Executive Committee to place the Popov estate at the disposal of the colony.

At that time we thought these papers represented a final solution of the question; now we had nothing to do but draw a breath of relief and forget our incessant discussions condeming abandoned estates, unsuccessful colonies, moribund monasteries and aristocratic country homes not yet called into new life; now we could forget the legend of the Hortitisa island, pack up our possessions, and go.

The general meeting selected Mitka Zhevely to go with me to inspect and take over the Popov estate. Mitka was now fifteen years old. He had long been a head taller than anyone else in the ranks of the juniors, had mastered the complex art of commander of a mixed detachment, had been a Komsomol for over a year, and had recently been found worthy of the responsible post of commander of the ninth (the mill detachment). Mitka was a representative of the newest type of Gorkyites--by the age of fifteen he had acquired great practical experience, a resilient carriage, and the ability to organize, while at the same time he had caught many of the ways of the older, fighting generation. From his first day in the colony, Mitka had been a follower of Karabanov, and seemed to have inherited from Karabanov his fiery black eye and fine, energetic gestures. But the great difference between Mitka and Semyon was that Mitka was in the fifth class at the age of fifteen.

Mitka and I set off on a clear, frosty, snowless day at the end of November, and arrived at Zaporozhye in twenty-four hours. In our innocence we had imagined that the new and happy era of the Gorky Colony would begin somewhat as follows: the chairman of the Regional Executive Committee, an individuial with a pleasing and revolutionary countenance, would meet us kindly, and be delighted to see us.

"The Popov estate?" we imagined him saying. "For the Gorky Colony? Of course, of course--I know all about it! With pleasure! With pleasure! Here's an order for the estate, just you go and take it!"

And we would only have to ask our way to the estate, rush back to the colony, and tell them to hurry up and pack their belongings as quick as they could.

It never occurred to us that we might not like the Popov estate. Even the austere Bregel of the People's Commissariat for Education had said, when Mitka and I went to see her in Kharkov:

"The Popov estate! Just what Makarenko needs! Popov may have been a bit of a crank, but he did do some building there! You'll see for yourselves. A fine estate, you'll like it!"

Dzhurinsloaya said much the same.

"It's lovely there, so rich and beautiful! That place was simply made for a children's colony!"

And Maria Kondratyevna said:

"It's a lovely estate!"

The very fact that everyone knew this estate seemed to be significant, and Mitka and I went there in a mood of submission to fate--the place had evidently been especially created for us Gorkyites.

But of our many expectations, only one came true--the chairman of the Regional Executive Committee really did have a pleasing revolutionary type of countenance. All the rest turned out quite different, beginning from his very first words to us.

After reading the paper from the People's Commissariat for Education, the chairman said:

"But there's a peasant commune there. And what is this Gorky Colony?"

He stared frankly at Mitka and me, but evidently found Mitka more to his taste, for he asked, smiling at his wary black eyes:

"Will lads like this be at the head of things there?"

Mitka flushed, and started bluffing.

"And what's wrong with our chaps? I don't suppose they'd manage things any worse than your muzhiks!"

With these words, Mitka flushed still redder, while the chairman's smile grew broader.

"Is that what you call our peasants--muzhiks?" he said, and proceeded to admit confidentially: "They do manage things badly, it's true. But there are fifteen hundred hectares there, the matter is beyond the competence of the Regional Executive Committee, you must have it out with the People's Commissariat for Agriculture."

Mitka screwed up his eyes distrustfully at the chairman.

"Beyond your... what d'you call it--competence, you say? What does that mean?"

"You see, I understand your language better than you understand mine! Never mind, your director will explain to you what competence means. Now, what can I do for you? I'll give you a car, and you can go and look round. And you can speak to the commune on the spot, perhaps you'll be table to come to some sort of an agreement. But the matter will be decided in Kharkov, in the People's Commissariat for Agriculture."

Smiling, the chairman shook hands with Mitka.

"If all your chaps are like that, I'll support you."

Mitka and I saw the Popov estate, and were intoxicated by its beauty.

At the edge of the famous Great Meadow, on the very place, it seemed to us, where the hut of Taras Bulba had stood, in an angle of the Dnieper and the Kara-Chekrak, a long range of slopes rose abruptly out of the steppe. From their midst rushed the Kara-Chekrak, straight as on arrow, more like a canal than a river, to join the Dnieper, and on its steep bank was--a miracle. Behind high, battlemented walls rose palaces whose peaked roofs and cupolas mingled in fantastic confusion. Some of the towers still retained their weathercocks, but the dark, embrasured windows had a hard, blank stare, contrasting painfully with the graceful intricacy of Moorish, or perhaps it was Arabic, creative fantasy.

By a gate beneath an airy turret with two tiers of windows, we entered a vast courtyard, paved with square tiles, between which the stalks of coarse frostbitten Ukrainian grass had pushed their way with morose insolence, and over which cows, pigs and goats had left obvious traces of their wanderings. We went into the first palace. There was nothing left in it but draughts and malodorous lime, and a pilaster Venus of Milo, lacking legs as well as arms, lay on the floor in the hall. The other castles, equally lofty and elegant, also smelled strongly of devastation. Casting over all the eye of an expert, I calculated what the necessary repairs would come to. As a matter of fact, there was nothing to be afraid of--doors and windows were needed, the parquet flooring would have to be mended, stuccoing done everywhere. The Venus of Milo need not be repaired, and stairs, ceilings and stoves were in order.

Mitka was not so prosaic as I was. No amount of devastation could quench his aesthetic enthusiasm. He wandered about the halls, towers and entrances, the yards, big and little, exclaiming in ecstasy:

"Oh my! Just look! It's fine, upon my word it is! What a place, Anton Semyonovich! Won't the fellows be pleased! It's fine, my word it is! How many chaps could live here, d'you think? A thousand?"

According to my calculations eight hundred chaps could be housed.

"And could we manage them? Eight hundred! They'd be mostly from the streets, I suppose. And all our commanders are at the Rabfak."

There was no time to wonder whether we would have been able to manage them or not, and we went on. In the backyard the commune was in charge and had made a sad mess of things. The vast stable was full of dung heaps, and, standing about among the dung heaps, without bedding and neglected, were a few sorry nags, with protruding ribs and soiled rumps, many of them showing bald patches. The enormous hoghouse was riddled with holes, here were very few pigs in it, and those but poor specimens. On the frozen mounds of the yard, neglected carts, seed drills, wheels and spare parts were lying about in utter confusion, and over all there seemed to be a layer of savage, stupefying solitude. Only in the hog-house did we meet a single soul--a gnarled old man, with a pointed beard, who said:

"If you're looking for the office, it's in that hut over there."

"Where d'you keep your pigs?" Mitka asked.

"What's that? Ah ... pigs!"

The old man shifted his feet, touched his moustache with transparent fingers, and cast a glance towards the stalls. It was clear that Mitka's question had nonplussed him. But he waved his hand gallantly.

"Oh ... they've eaten them, the scoundrels, eaten them, the bastards...."


"Who? Our own people...this here commune. ..."

"And aren't you in the commune, Grandpa?"

"Hee-hee, son, I am like a calf among sheep in the commune. The ones who can shout the loudest are the elders now. And they didn't give an old man any post, they didn't give him any, the bastards!! And who may you be?"

"We've come on business."

"Aha! On business! Oh, well, since you're here on business, you go in, they're holding a meeting there ...a meeting, you see ... theyr're always holding meetings, the sons-of-bitches.... And here... ."

The old man was now, it appeared, ready to be extremely frank, but we had no time.

In the cramped office, sitting on the rapidly-disintegrating chairs of the late landowner, they were holding a meeting, just as the old man had said. It was hard to make out through the smoke of plug tobacco how many persons were present, but there was enough din for a score or so. Unfortunately we never did discover what was on the agenda, for the moment we entered a curly-haired man, with a black beard, and round, girlish-sentimental eyes, asked us who we were.

A conversation began which was in turns official and hostile, passionately inimical, and at last, after nearly two hours, simply businesslike. I had been wrong, it appeared. The commune was desperately sick, but by no means ready to give up the ghost, and, recognizing in ourselves uninvited gravediggers, it became highly indignant, and gathering up its failing strength, displayed a remarkable thirst for life.

One thing was clear: fifteen hundred hectares was too much for the commune. One of the causes of its poverty lay in this superfluous wealth. We had no difficulty in coming to an agreement as to the possibility of dividing up the land. The commune was still readier to give up to us the palaces, the battlemented walls and turrets, with the Venus of Milo thrown in. But when it came to the matter of the farmyard, feeling waxed high between the members of the commune and ourselves. Mitka could not even stick to the line of argument, and became personal.

"Why is your beet still lying in the fields?"

And the chairman replied:

"Is a kid like you to question me about my beet?"

We only came to an agreement about the farmyard late in the evening.

"What are we arguing for, like jackasses?" said Mitka. "The farmyard can be divided by a wall."

We left it at that.

I don't remember what form of transport conveyed us back to the Gorky Colony, but it seems to have been something like wings. Our narrative at the general meeting was received with an unprecedented ovation. Mitka and I were tossed into the air, my spectacles were almost broken, and Mitka had either his nose or his forehead bruised.

A truly happy period began for the colony. The colonists lived on plans for three months Bregel, who came again to the colony, reproached me.

"What sort of people are you bringing up, Makarenko--dreamers?"

What if they were dreamers? I'm not very fond of the word "dream" myself. It smacks of girlish vapours, and maybe something even worse. But there are dreams and dreams, and it is one thing to dream of a knight on a white steed, and quite another to dream of eight hundred boys and girls in a children's colony. While living in cramped barracks, did we not dream of high, light room? Winding rags around our feet, we had dreamed of real footwear. We had dreamed of the Rabfak, the Komsomol organization, we had dreamed of the stallion Molodets, and of a herd of Simmenthal cows. When I brought two piglings of English breed in a sack, one such dreamer, tousle-headed Vanva Shelaputin, seated on his own hands, on a high bench, his legs dangling, had glanced up at the ceiling, and said:

"Now we have only two piglings. But soon there'll be a lot more. And those will have still more, and in five years, we shall have a hundred hogs. Ho, ho! Ha, ha! D'you hear that, Toska--a hundred hogs!"

And both the dreamer and Toska had broken out into unaccustomed laughter, drowning the business talk going on in my office. And now we had over three hundred hogs, and no one remembered Shelaputin's dreams.

Perhaps the main distinction between our educational system and the bourgeois one lies precisely in the fact that with us a children's collective is bound to develop and prosper, to visualize a better morrow, and to aspire to it in joyful, common efforts, in gay, steadfast visions. Perhaps therein lies the true pedagogical dialectics.

I made no attempt therefore to apply a brake to the dreams of the colonists, but, together with them, soared, and even, perhaps, a little too high. But these were very happy days in the colony, and all my friends still remember them joyfully.

Alexei Maximovich himself, whom we wrote to in detail about our affairs, dreamed along with us.

There were only a few people in the colony who were not glad, and who did not dream, and Kalina Ivanovich was one of them. His soul was young, but apparently soul alone is not enough for dreaming. Kalina Ivanovich said of himself:

"Have you seen how a good horse will shy at an automobile? That's because it wants to live, the parasite. While some sorry nag has no fear, not only of an automobile, but of the devil himself, because it doesn't care whether it gets corn or meal, as the Russians say."

I tried to persuade Kalina Ivanovich to go with us, and the boys did, too, but he stood firm.

"I'm not afraid of anything any more, but you don't need a parasite like me. I've gone some of the way with you, and now it's enough. I'll settle down on a pension. The Soviet government is good to us old gaffers."

The Osipovs, too, vowed they would not leave with the colony, adding that they had had enough violent experiences.

"We're humble folk," said Natalya Markovna, we can't understand what you want with eight hundred people. Really, Anton Semyonovich, you'll get your fingers burnt in this business."

In reply to this declaration, I chanted:

"We sing the madness of the brave!"

The boys, recognizing the quotation from Gorky, applauded and laughed, but the Osipovs were not so easily put out of countenance.

Silanti, however, consoled me:

"Let them stay behind! You like to harness everyone to racing chariots, as they say, Anton Semyonovich, but a cow won't do for that, and you keep harnessing it. That's how it is."

"But you will, Silanti?"

"Me? What?"

"You'll go in the racing chariot?"

"You can drive me where you like, you can even saddle me, and put me under Budyonny. You see, those swine used me as a beast of burden, as they say. They couldn't see, the swine, that I was a regular charger."

Silanti flung black his head, stamped, and added somewhat tardily:

"That's how it is, you see!"

It was the fact that almost all the teachers, as well as Silanti, Kozyr, Elissov, Godanovich the blacksmith, all the laundresses, cooks, and even mill workers, had decided to go with us, which made this move seem so specially secure and homely.

But in the meantime things were going badly in Kharkov. I was often there. The People's Commissariat for Education supported us to a man. Even Bregel was drawn into our dreams, although at the time she persisted in calling me Don Quixote of the Zaporozhye.

And at last even the People's Commissariat for Agriculture, though they pursed their lips, and pretended scornfully to forget our name, calling us now the Gorky, now the Korolenko, and now the Shevchenko Colony, gave in, with a "take eight hundred desyiatins and the Popov estate, if you like,--only leave us in peace."

It soon appeared, however, that our foes were not in the fighting line, but lying in ambush. And I had gone for them baldheaded, fancying that this was the final, victorious blow, after which we could sound our bugles in triumph. But when a little fellow in a short jacket came out from behind the bushes to meet my attack and uttered a few words, I was crushed, and retreated, throwing down my weapons, abandoning my banners, and hurling back the victoriously advancing ranks of the colonists.

"The People's Commissariat for Finance cannot sanction such a gamble by assigning you thirty thousand rubles for repairing a palace which nobody wants. Why, your own children's homes are in ruins!"

"But it isn't just for repairs. These estimates include inventory and the expenses of moving."

"We know all about that! Eight hundred desvatins, eight hundred waifs, eight hundred cows. The time for such gambles has passed. We've forked out millions to the People's Commissariat for Education, and nothing ever came of it. They stole everything, broke up everything, and then ran away."

And the little man trampled on our beautiful living dream, so unexpectedly dashed to the ground. Neither tears, nor assurances that it had been Gorky's dream, too, were of any avail. The dream died.

And on the way home I remembered, shuddering, that our scholastic course included the theme: "Our farm in the Zaporozhye Region." Sherre had twice visited the Popov estate. He had drawn up an agricultural plan which he communicated to the colonists--a plan studded with diamonds, emeralds and rubies, in which fleets of tractors, herds of cows, flocks of sheep, poultry to the tune of hundreds of thousands, the export of butter and eggs to England, incubators, separators, and orchards, gleamed, sparkled, and shed dazzling rays.

Only a week before I had been met on the way from Kharkov by the excited juniors, who had dragged me out of the carriage with shouts of:

"Anton Semyonovich! Anton Semyonovich! Dawn has foaled. Come and see! Come and see! Come now!"

They had borne me off to the stables and stood around the still moist, trembling, golden foal. They had smiled in silence, a single voice murmuring with feeling:

"We've called it Zaporozhets."

My dear little chaps! Not yours to follow the plough over the Great Meadow, to live in the airy palace, to blow your bugles from the height of the Moorish towers! All for nothing have you christened the little golden steed Zaporozhets!