A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive
The blow dealt by the man from the People's Commissariat for Finance was a crushing one. The hearts of the colonists ached, our foes sneered and guffawed, and I myself was seriously perturbed. But none of us considered any more the idea of staying on the Kolomak. Even the People's Commissariat for Education meekly realized our stubborn determination, and considered the matter from one point of view only--where were we to go?
Everything was very complicated during the February and March of 1926. The Zaporozhye fiasco had extinguished the last sparks of triumphant optimism, but the collective still clung stubbornly to some remnants of hope. Not a week passed without some proposal or other being discussed at the general meeting of the colonists. There were still many places in the spacious Ukraine steppe, where either no one was farming the land, or the farming was being badly done. They were suggested to us one after the other by our friends in the People's Commissariat for Education, Komsomol organizations, by the oldest inhabitants in the neighbourhood, and by distant acquaintances in the agricultural line. During this period Sherre, the boys, and I traversed many roads and highroads in trains, in automobiles, or in carriages drawn by Molodets, and all sorts of local hacks and nags.
But the scouts returned home with little more than fatigue; at the general meetings the colonists heard them out with cold, businesslike faces, and dispersed, everyone going to his task, having fired at the speaker the first hard question that came into their heads:
"How many could be housed there? A hundred ond twenty? That's no good!"
"What town, did you say? Piryatin? Nuts!" And the speakers themselves were glad of such an outcome, for in their hearts they were more afraid of the meeting being tempted into acceptance than of anything else.
In this manner the Staritsky estate in Valky, the monastery at Piryatin, the Lubny monastery, the mansions of the Kochubei princes in Dikanka, and other utterly worthless places, passed before our eyes in rapid succession.
A still greater number of places were mentioned and brushed aside immediately as unworthy of investigation. One of these was Kuryazh, a children's colony close to Kharkov, with four hundred children, who were said to be utterly demoralized. The idea of a demoralized children's institution filled us with such horror that the thought of Kuryazh produced nothing but a few tiny, fragile bubbles, which burst almost as soon as they were formed.
Once, during one of my routine journeys to Kharkov, I came upon a meeting of the Children's Aid Committee. The situation of the Kuryazh colony, which was under the Committee's authority, was being discussed. Yuryev, an inspector from the Department of Public Education, was reporting with restrained bitterness on the situation in the colony, the very terseness and restraint of his language esposing the crazy and terrifying state of affairs. To the listeners, the Kuryazh colony with its forty pedagogues and four hundred charges seemed to be a conglomeration of doubtful anecdotes, concocted by a foul-minded pervert, a misanthrope and a cynic.
I wanted to bang my fist on the table, and shout:
"It can't be! It's sheer gossip!"
But Yuryev appeared to be quite a reliable person, and beneath the studied gravity of the speaker could be discerned the deep-seated melancholy of the pedagogue, a thing I could very well understand. My presence embarrassed Yuryev, who kept glancing at me as if he felt there was something wrong in his attire. After the meeting he came up to me and said frankly:
"Upon my word, I was ashamed to talk about all this beastliness in front of you. At your place, they say, if a colonist is five minutes late for dinner you place him under arrest on bread and water for a whole day, and he smiles and says 'very good!' "
"It's not quite like that. If I were to employ such a successful method you'd find yourself reporting on the Gorky Colony much in the style of your today's report."
Yuryev and I talked and argued. He invited me to dine with him, and said to me over the dinner table:
"D'you know what? Why shouldn't you take on Kuryazh?"
"What for? Besides it's full as it is."
"Full, is it? We could release a hundred and twenty places for you."
"I don't like the idea. Dirty work! And you wouldn't let me work."
"We would! Why are you so afraid of us? We'll give you carte blanche. Do what you like. Kuryazh is in a ghastly state. Think how awful to have such a nest of brigands just next to the capital! You heard me. Robbing people on the highway. Eighteen thousand rubles' worth of property stolen in the colony itself in four months!"
"So the whole stair would have to be sacked!"
"Oh, no--there are some splendid people there."
"In such cases I usually recommend complete disinfection."
"All right--sack them, sack them!"
"No, no! We're not going to Kuryazh."
"But you haven't even seen it, have you?"
"No, I haven't."
"I'll tell you what! Stay till tomorrow, and we'll take Khalabuda and go and have a look at it."
I agreed. The next day we all three drove over to Kuryazh. I went there without the slightest suspicion that I was going to choose a tomb for any colony.
Sidor Karpovich Khalabuda, the chairman of the Children's Aid Committee, accompanied us. He ruled conscientiously over his department, which at that time consisted of miserable, half-ruined children's homes and colonies, food shops, cinemas, wicker furniture stores, pleasure gardens, lotteries and accountant's offices. Sidor Karpovich was swarming with vermin--merchants, agents, croupiers, charlatans, rogues, swindlers and embezzlers, and I longed with all my heart to present him with a big bottle of insecticide. He had long been deafened by all sorts of considerations, suggested to him from all sides--economic, pedagogical, psychological and others, and had lost all hope of understanding why there was poverty, wholesale flight, thieving and hooliganism in his colonies. Now he bowed to reality, profoundly convinced that the homeless child represented an accumulation of all seven deadly sins, and all that remained of his former optimism was his faith in a better future, and in the virtues of rye.
This last characteristic of his I discovered later on, but now, sitting in the automobile, I listened to his utterances without the slightest suspicion.
"People must have rye. So long as people have rye, there's nothing to be afraid of. What's the good, after all, of teaching a boy to read Gogel, if he has no bread to eat? Give him rye, and then put a book into his hands. Those bandits, they can steal, but they can't sow rye."
"A bad lot?"
"Who? They? You ought to see them! Always coming to me: 'Sider Karpovich, do give me five rubles--I'm longing for a smoke!' I give it him, of course, and a week later, back he comes: 'Sidor Karpovich, give me five rubles.''I gave you five rubles, I say. 'That was for cigarettes,' he says. 'Now give me some for vodka.' "
After flying over the monotonous, sandy road for six kilometres, we ascended a low hill, and drove through the crumbling gates of the monastery. In the middle of the circular courtyard rose the shapeless mass of an ancient, but nonetheless hideous church, behind it a three-storey building of some sort, and around it long, low annexes, held up by rotting porches. A little to the side, on the edge of a steep bluff, was a two-storey, wooden inn, in an unfinished state. In various holes and corners nestled small houses, sheds, kitchens, and all sorts of rubbishy erections, the accumulations of three hundred years, put together from nondescript materials. The first thing which struck me was the stench prevailing in the colony. It was a complex blend of privies, cabbage soup, dung, and ... incense. From the church came the sound of singing, and on its steps sat a few disagreeable, shrivelled old women, brooding, no doubt, over the happy days when there had been someone to beg alms from. But there were no colonists in sight.
The dingy, shabby director looked wistfully at our Fiat car, patted the mudguard, and led us over the colony. It was obvious that he was used not so much to showing it off as to exposing it to criticism, and his Way of Sorrows was well marked out for him.
"This is the dormitory of the first collective," he said, passing a place where once there had been a door, but where now there was a mere gap--even the jambs had gone. We crossed a second threshold with equal ease, and turned into a passage on the left, which was just as cold, despite the stuffiness, as it was out of doors. Proof of this was to be found in the snowdrifts along the walls, which had had ample leisure to be covered with dust.
"Aren't there any doors?" I asked.
The manager did his best to show that he had not quite forgotten how to smile, and went on. Yuryev said loudly:
"The doors have been burned long ago. That's nothing! They're tearing up the floors, now, and burning them, they've burned the cellar doors, and even some of the carts."
"Haven't they any wood?"
"God knows why they haven't any wood! They were given money for wood."
"Very likely they have got wood," said Khalabuda, blowing his nose. "They just don't want to saw and chop, and they haven't got the money to hire anyone. They have wood, the swine! You know these colony kids--they're bandits, that's what they are!"
At last we arrived at a real, closed door, belonging to a dormitory. Khalabuda kicked at it, when it immediately swung open on the lower (hinge, threatening to topple on to our heads. Khalabuda supported it with his hand, laughing.
"No, you don't, you old devil!" he said. "I know your little ways!"
We went into the dormitory. On dirty, broken bedsteads, on heaps of formless rags, sat waifs, real waifs, in all their glory, huddling under similar rags for warmth. By a dilapidated stove two boys were chopping up a board, evidently recently painted yellow. Filth lay about in the corners, and even in the spaces between the beds. Here were the same smells as those which prevailed in the yard, minus the incense.
We were followed by eyes, but no heads were turned. I noticed that all the waifs were over sixteen.
"Are these the seniors?" I asked.
"Yes. This is Collective Number One--the seniors," explained the manager obligingly.
From a distant corner came an exclamation in a deep voice.
"Don't you believe what they say! They're all liars!"
From another corner someone said in free accents, without the slightest emphasis:
"Show you! What's there to show here? Why don't they show you all they've stolen?"
We paid not the slightest attention to these utterances, Yuryev merely blushing and glancing furtively towards me.
We went out into the passage.
"There are six dormitories in this building," said the manager. "Shall I show you them?"
"Show me the workshops," I said.
Khalabuda came to life, and embarked upon a long narrative of the successful purchase of some lathes.
Once again we went out into the yard. A little fellow, holding his jacket tight over his chest, was jumping in our direction from mound to mound in his endeavours not to step on the strips of snow with his bare, blackened feet. I stopped him, falling back from the others.
"Where do you come from, little chap?"
He stopped and raised his face.
"I've been to find out if they're going to send us away."
"They say we're to be sent somewhere."
"Don't you like it here?"
"We can't go on living here," said the little fellow softly and sadly, rubbing his ear with a corner of his jacket. "We should freeze to death. Besides, they beat us."
"Who beats you?"
He was a bright little chap, and apparently lacked experience of the streets. He had big blue eyes, not yet made hideous by grimaces learned in the streets. If he had been washed he would have been a nice little boy.
"What do they beat you for?"
"Anything. If you don't give them something they want. Or they take our dinner from us. Our chaps, they have been going without dinner for a long time. Sometimes, they even take the bread.... Or if you don't steal when they tell you to steal something.... Do you know whether we are to be sent away?"
"I don't know, son."
"They say it will be summer soon...."
"What d'you want the summer for?"
"I shall go away then...."
They were calling me to the workshops. It seemed to me impossible to leave the little fellow without giving him some sort of help, but he was hopping along by the mounds, making for the dormitories--apparently it was a little warmer there than out of doors.
We weren't able to look over the workshops after all--some mysterious being was supposed to have the keys, and search as he would the manager was unable to pierce the mystery. We contented ourselves with peeping through the windows. We could make out punching machines, joiners' benches and two turning lathes, twelve pieces of equipment in all. The cobblers' and tailors' shops, the traditional stand-by of pedagogics, were housed in separate buildings.
"Is today a holiday here?" I asked.
The director did not reply. Yuryev once again took upon himself the hard task of interpretation.
"I'm surprised at you, Anton Semyonovich! You ought to understand everything by now. Nobody does any work here, that's the situation. Besides, the tools have been stolen, and there's no material, no energy, no orders, no nothing! And then, none of them knows how to work."
The colony's power plant, of which Khalabuda had boasted so proudly, was not working either--something had broken down.
"Well, and the school?"
The director answered this question himself.
"There is a school," he said. "But we have other things to think about."
Khalabuda kept urging us into the fields. When we stepped out of the circle enclosed by walls several feet thick, our eyes were greeted by a depression in the ground, which must once have been a pond. On the other side fields stretched out to the forest, covered by a thin layer of patchy snow. Khalabuda extended his arm in a Napoleonic gesture, exclaiming triumphantly:
"A hundred and twenty desyatins. Wealth!"
"Have the winter crops been sown?" I asked incautiously.
"Winter crops?" cried Khalabuda delightedly. "Thirty desyatins of rye, say, a hundred poods a desyatin, three thousand poods of rye alone! They won't be left without bread. And what rye! If only people would sow rye, they wouldn't need anything else. What's wheat? Rye bread--the Germans can't eat it, you know, even the French can't--but our folk, so long as there's rye bread...."
We had got back to the car by now, and Khalabuda was still holding forth about rye. At first this irritated us but after a bit it became interesting--hat more would he find to say about rye?
We got into the car and drove away, the lonely, melancholy manager seeing us off. Silence was maintained as far as the Kholodnaya hill. As we were crossing the market place Yuryev nodded towards a group of street boys, saying:
"Those are boys from Kuryazh. Well--will you take it on?"
"No, I won't."
"What are you afraid of? The Gorky Colony is a home for delinquents, too, isn't it? The All-Ukrainian Commission sends you all sorts of riffraff, anyhow. And we'd give you normal children here."
Even Khalabuda had to laugh, seated in the car.
"Normal--I like that!"
Yuryev pursued his line of thought.
"Let's go right away to Dzhurinskaya, and have a talk. The Children's Aid Committee would hand the colony over to the People's Commissariat for Education. Kharkov doesn't like sending you delinquents, and they haven't any colony of their own. And this would be our own, and what a colony! Four hundred children. That's something like! The workshops here aren't bad.... Sidor Karpovich, would you give the colony away?"
Khalabuda thought for a moment.
"Thirty desyatins of rye," he said. "That's two hundred and forty poods of grain. And the work? Would you pay? Why shouldn't we give up the colony? We'll give it up!"
"Let's go to Dzhurinskaya," urged Yuryev. "We'll transfer a hundred and twenty of the younger children somewhere else, and leave you two hundred and eighty. They may not be delinquents officially, but after their education in Kuryazh they're something worse than delinquents."
"Why should I go into this hole?" I asked Yuryev. "Besides, the place needs cleaning up. It would cost not less than twenty thousand rubles."
"Sidor Karpovich would give you that."
Khalabuda seemed to wake up.
"Twenty thousand rubles? What for?"
"Repairs, doors, tools, bedding, clothing, everything."
"Twenty thousand!" he exclaimed. "We could do everything ourselves for twenty thousand."
At Dzhurinskara's, Yuryev continued his propaganda. Lyubov Savelyevna listened to him with a smile on her face, glancing at me now and then with curiosity.
"That would be too costly an experiment," she said. "We can't expose the Gorky Colony to such a risk. We must simply close Kurvazh, and distribute the children among other colonies. Besides, Comrade Makarenko wouldn't go to Kryazh."
"No, I wouldn't," said.
"Is that final?" asked Yuryev.
"I'll have a talk with my colonists, but I'm sure they'll refuse."
"D'you mean--your charges?"
"What do they know about it?"
Dzhurinskaya put her hand on Khalabuda's sleeve.
"Sidor, old dear," she said. "They know more about it than you and I do. I'd like to see their faces when they behold your Kuryazh!"
Khalabuda lost his temper.
"Why do you keep on at me about 'my Kuryazh'? Why is it mine? I gave you fifty thousand rubles. And an engine. And twelve lathes. And the teachers are yours. How can I help it if they don't know their own business?"
I left these social education workers to settle their domestic troubles and hurried to catch the train. Karabanov and Zadorov came to the station to see me off. Hearing my report of Kuryazh, they fixed their gaze on the wheels of the railway carriage, and gave themselves up to meditation. At last Karabanov said:
"It's not a very great honour for the Gorkyites to clean out privies, but who knows? It needs thinking over."
"But we should be near--we'd help," said Zadorov, showing his teeth. "D'you know what, Semyon, we'll go and have a look at it tomorrow!"
The general meeting of the colonists, like all our meetings of late, gave me a guarded and thoughtful hearing. While making my report, I listened curiously, not only to the meeting, but to my own heart. Suddenly I felt like smiling sadly. What had happened? Had I been a child, four months before, when, together with the colonists, I had bubbled over in ecstasy about the castles in the Zaporozhye we had built? Had I grown up, or had I merely become spiritless? I felt that there must be a distressing lack of confidence in my words, in the tone of my voice, in the expression of my face. For a whole year we had been straining towards wide, light-filled spaces; surely our aspirations were not to ge crowned by an absurd, befouled place like Kuryazh! How had it come about that I should be discussing such an intolerable future with the colonists of my own free will? What was there to attract us in Kuryazh? For what advantages were we to abandon our flower beds, our Kolomak, our parquet floors, the estate we ourselves had restored to life?
And yet there was a poem, terse and full of rectitude, in which there was no room for a single joyous word, but in which, to my own astonishment, I could detect an austere, lofty challenge, and--somewhere far away--a timid joy seemed to be lurking.
The colonists now and again interrupted my narrative with laughter, in those very places where I bad expected to move them to dismay. Stifling their laughter, they bombarded me with questions, and on receiving my replies laughed still louder. And it was not the laughter of hope or joy--it was derision.
"And what do the forty teachers do?"
"I couldn't say."
"Anton Semyonovich! Didn't you sock anyone in the jaw there? I couldn't have helped it, I'm sure!"
"Is there a dining room there?"
"There is, but the children are all barefoot, so the soup kettles are carried into the dormitories, and they eat there."
"Who carries them in?"
"I didn't see. The boys themselves, probably."
"In turns--or how?"
"In turns, I suppose."
"Ah! So they do organize!"
"Is there a Komsomol organization?"
Here the laughter peals out, without waiting for my reply. And yet, when I finished my report, all looked at me with grave anxiety.
"And what's your opinion?" cried somebody.
"I'll decide as you do."
Lapot looked closely at me, and apparently could make nothing of my expression.
"Come on, now--speak out! Well? Why don't you say anything? I'd like to know where your silence will lead you to?"
Denis Kudlaty raised his hand.
"Aha! Denis! I wonder what you have to say!" Denis started to scratch the black of his head, but remembering that this weakness of his was always made fun of by the colonists, he let his unwanted hand fall.
But the boys, who had noticed his manoeuvre, laughed.
"Well, as a matter of fact, I've nothing special to say. Of course, it's nearer Kharkov, that's true. But to undertake a thing like that--who have we got? Everyone's gone to the Rabfak."
He shook his head as if he had swallowed a fly.
"As a matter of fact, it's hardly worth talking about that Kuryazh. Why should we butt in there? And then, remember--there are two hundred and eighty of them, and a hundred and twenty of us, and such a lot of ours are new, and who are the seniors? Toska's a commander now, and Natasha's a commander, and Perepelyatchenko, and Sukhoivan, and Galatenko...."
"What's this about Galatenko?" said a sleepy, disgruntled voice. "Whenever anything's wrong, it's 'Galatenko.' "
"You shut up!" said Lapot.
"Why should I shut up? Anton Semyonovich has told us what the people there are like. And me--don't I work?"
"Very well, then," continued Denis. "I apologize--but we will have our mugs beaten in, you'll see."
Mitka Zhevely raised his head.
"Gently with your 'mugs'!"
"What'll you do about it?"
"Never mind what we mean to do!"
Kudlaty resumed his seat. Ivan Ivanovich took the floor.
"Comrade Colonists, I don't mean to go anywhere, so I may be said to see things from the outside, and see them clearer. Why should you go to Kuryazh? They'll leave us three hundred of the worst boys, and Kharkov boys, at that."
"And don't they send Kharkov boys here?" asked Lapot.
"They do. But just think--three hundred! And Anton Semyonovich says the children are quite grown-up. And another thing--you'll be going to them, while they'll be at home. If they have stolen clothes alone to the value of eighteen thousand rubles, just think what they'll do with you!"
"Roast us!" shouted someone.
"They won't bother to roast us--they'll eat us raw!"
"And they'll teach a lot of our boys to steal," continued Ivan Ivanovich. "Have we got any of that sort?"
"Any amount," replied Kudlaty. "We have forty young feller-me-lads who only don't steal because they're afraid."
"You see!" said Ivan Ivanovich, delighted. "Now count! There'll be eighty of you, counting the girls and the little ones, and three hundred and twenty of them. And what is it all for? Why wreck the Gorky Colony? You're going to your ruin, Anton Semyonovich!"
Ivan Ivanovich sat down, glancing around triumphantly. The colonists murmured as if in qualified approval, but there was not much decision in the sound.
Kalina Ivanovich, in his ancient greatcoat, but shaved and well-groomed as ever, took the floor amidst general approval. Kalina Ivanovich was suffering at the thought of having to part with the colony, and I could see a great and human melancholy in his blue eyes, which shone with the uncertain light of age.
"It's like this," began Kalina Ivanovich unhurriedly. "I'm not going with you, either, so I suppose I'm an outsider, too, only I don't feel like one. Where you go, and where life takes you, are two different things. Last month you said: we'll have enough butter to send to the English. Now do tell me, an old man, how can such a thing be allowed? I saw how excited you all were--let's go, let's go! Well, what if you had gone? Of course, theoretically, it would have been the Zaporozhye, but in practice you would simply have raised cows, that's all. How much sweat would you have poured out before your butter got to the English--did you ever think of that? It would be grazing, and carting dung, and washing cow's backsides, if your butter's to be any good. You never thought of all that, you sillies! It was all: let's go! let's go! And it's a good thing you never did go. And now there's Kuryazh, and you sit and think. But what is there to think about? You're a progressive individual, and just look--three hundred of your brothers are going to the dogs, the same Maxim Gorkys as you are yourselves. Anton Semyonovich told you about them, and you guffawed, but what's so funny in it? How is the Soviet government to reconcile itself to four hundred bandits growing up in the very capital, in Kharkov, right under the nose of the head of the Ukrainian government? And now the Soviet government says to you--go ahead and work, help them to become decent people--three hundred people, just think! And you'll be watched not by some riffraff, some Luka Semyonovich, but by the whole Kharkov proletariat! And you refuse! You can't bear to have your rosebushes, and you're afraid--there are so few of us, and so many o them, the parasites. And how do you think Anton Semyonovich and I, just the two of us, started this colony? Did we call a general meeting and make speeches? Let Volokhov and Taranets and Gud tell you if we were afraid of them, the parasites! And this would be work for the State, work the Soviet government needs. And I tell you--go, and that's all about it! And Maxim Gorky would say--look at my Gorkyites, they went, the parasites! They weren't frightened off!"
The longer Kalina Ivanovich spoke, the redder grew his cheeks, and the more the eyes of the colonists glowed. Many of those seated on the floor moved nearer to us, and some placed their chins on the shoulders of their neighbours, and looked fixedly, not into the face of Kalina Ivanovich, but somewhere far away, towards some future exploit. And when Kalina Ivanovich mentioned Maxim Gorky, the fervent eyes of the colonists seemed about to be bursting into flame, the lads shouted, yelled, milled about, broke out into cheers. But there was no time for cheering. Mitka Zhevely stood amidst those seated on the floor, and shouted to the back rows, apparently expecting to meet resistance from there.
"We'll go, fellow parasites--that we will!"
But the back rows, too, shot all sorts of flames towards Mitka, with the most resolute expressions on their faces, and then Mitka turned to Kalina Ivanovich, surrounded by a seething mass of the boys who were capable at the moment of nothing but squealing.
"Kalina Ivanovich, since that's how it is, won't you come with us, too?"
Kalina Ivanovich smiled ruefully, filling his pipe.
Lapot made a speech.
"What's written up there--read!"
All shouted in unison:
"Come on, then--read it again!"
Lapot thrust his clenched fist downward, and all repeated, sternly, resoundingly:
"And you whine! A fine set of mathematicians! They count eighty and three hundred and twenty. That's not the way to count! When we took in forty Kharkov kids, did we count?
Where are they?"
"We're here, we're here!" shouted the little chaps.
The little chaps shouted.
"What the hell's the counting for, then? If I were Ivan Ivanovich I'd count this way--we have no lice, and they have ten thousand--so stay where you are!"
The hilarious meeting glanced at Ivan Ivanovich, who was red with shame.
"It amounts to this," said Lapot. "We have the Gorky Colony on our side, and who have they? Nobody!"
Lapot had finished. The colonists shouted:
"Right! We'll go, and that's that! Let Anton Semyonovich write to the People's Commissariat for Education!"
"Right you are!" said Kudlaty. "We'll go, then! But to do so, we must use our brains. Tomorrow's the first of March, there's not a moment to be lost. We mustn't write, we must telegraph. Otherwise we shan't have any truck garden. And another thing--we can't go without money, either. Twenty thousand, or whatever it may be, but money there must be."
"Shall we put it to the vote?" asked Lapot, seeking my advice.
"Let Anton Semyonovich tell us what he thinks," came shouts from the crowd.
"Can't you see?" said Lapot. "Still, for the sake of order we must do it. Anton Semyonovich takes the floor."
I rose before the meeting, and said briefly:
"Three cheers for the Gorky Colony!"
Half an hour later Mitka Bogoyavlensky, recently promoted senior groom and commander of the second detachment, set off on horseback for the town.
He took with him a telegram:
"Kharkov Commissiariat for Education Dzhurinskaya earnestly request you give us Kuryazh soon as possible to be in time for sowing shall forward estimiate. General meeting of colonists.