A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


Dzhurinskaya summoned me by telegraph the very next day. The colonists in their simplicity attributed enormous significance to the telegram.

"You see how it works: rat-tat-tat--one telegram after another. ..."

As it turned out, things developed without any such expedition. Although it was universally admitted that Kuryazh could no longer be tolerated, if only on account of the earnest entreaties issuing from suburban homes, villages and hamlets for the liquidation of this "den of thieves," there were still some who stuck up for it. As a matter of fact nobody but Dzhurinskaya and Yuryev wanted the unconditional transfer of our colony to Kuryazh, and only Yuryev was really convinced of the expediency of the suggested operation; Dzhurinskaya agreed to it simply because of her faith in me.

"All the same, I feel very nervous, Anton Semyonovich," she said. "I can't help it--I do!"

Bregel was in favour of the transfer, but suggested conditions to which I could not possibly agree: she wanted a special committee of three to undertake the whole operation, the Gorky traditions to be gradually inculcated in the new collective, and fifty Komsomol members from Kharkov to be sent there for a month to help me.

Khalabuda, under the promptings of some of the scoundrelly personages by whom he was always surrounded, would not hear of a twenty-thousand-ruble grant and could only repeat:

"With twenty thousand we could manage it ourselves."

Unexpected enemies attacked us from the trade union. Especially virulent was a certain Klyamer, a passionate dark-haired man, who called himself a "friend of the people." I still don't know why the Gorky Colony irritated him so, but whenever he referred to it his face would be distorted with rage, and he would spit and bang his fist on the table:

"Everywhere reformers! Who is Makarenko? Why must we break the laws and violate the interests of the working class for the sake of some Makarenko or other? And what do we know about the Gorky Colony? Who has seen it? Dzhurinskaya has--well, what of it? Does Dzhurhskaya understand everything?"

These were the demands of mine which irritated Klyamer so much:

1. The discharge of the entire staff of Kuryazh without any discussion whatsoever.

2. The number of teachers in the Gorky Colony to be fifteen (forty was considered the norm).

3. Teachers to be paid not forty, but eighty rubles a month.

4. The staff to be selected by myself, the trade union retaining its right of objection.

These modest requests made Klyamer almost weep with vexation.

"I'd like to see anyone daring to discuss this insolent ultimatum! Every word is a sneer at Soviet law. He needs fifteen teachers, so twenty-five are to be thrown overboard. He wants to make his teachers work like galley shaves, and forty will be in his way."

I did not enter into ia controversy with Klyamer, not quite understanding what he was driving at.

Altogether I tried to keep out of discussions and arguments, for in my heart I was not certain of success, and did not wish to force anyone to take a risk which he thought unjustified. In truth I had only one argument--the Gorky Colony, but not many people had seen it, and it was not for me to tell them about it.

So many individuals, passions, and personal relations had become involved in the question of the transfer of the colony, that I was very soon out of my depth, and the fact that I was never in Kharkov for more than a day at a time, and never managed to attend any meetings, made things still more difficult for me. Somehow I did not believe in the sincerity of my opponents, and could not help suspecting that very different motives underlay their ostensible arguments.

I met with real, impassioned, human conviction in only one person in the People's Commissariat for Education, and I regarded it with frank admiration. The person was a woman, judging by her attire, but seemed to be a sexless being--short of stature, with an equine countenance, a flat, puny chest and huge, clumsy legs. She was always waving her red hands about, either gesticulating, or setting to rights her coarse, straight, tow-coloured locks. Everyone called her Comrade Zoya, and she was not without a certain influence in Bregel's office.

Comrade Zoya detested me on sight, and made no secret of it, nor did she hesitate to use the most violent expressions.

"You're not a pedagogue, Makarenko, you're a martinet! I'm told you're an ex-colonel, and it looks as if it were true. I simply can't understand why people make such a fuss of you here! I wouldn't let you go near children."

I liked the crystalline sincerity and lucid passion of Comrade Zoya, and I also made no secret of my feelings in my answers to her.

"I admire you more and more, Comrade Zoya, only I never was a colonel, you know."

Comrade Zoya, who was convinced that the transfer of the colony would end in catastrophe, banged her fist on Bregel's desk, fairly howling:

"You seem to be infatuated! What spell has been cast on you all by this--" she glanced towards me.

"Colonel," I said gravely, as if prompting her.

"Yes, colonel! I'll tell you what all this will end in--in a massacre. He'll take his hundred and twenty over there, and there'll be a massacre. What have you to say to that, Comrade Makarenko?"

"Your reasoning entrances me, but I should like to know who's going to massacre whom."

Bregel tried to quell our altercations.

"Zoya! You ought to be ashamed of yourself! Why should there be any massacre? And you, Anton Semyonovich, you make fun of everything."

Word of our wranglings and controversies had begun to reach the highest party circles, and I was glad of that. I was even glad to hear that Kuryazh was beginning to decompose, with a fearful stench, calling for urgent and drastic measures. Kuryazh itself clamoured for a decision, though its own teachers protested that all this talk of our colony being transferred to them was completely demoralizing the Kuryazh colonists.

These same teachers went about telling people in strict confidence that the Yuryazhites were sharpening their blades in preparation for the arrival of the Gorkyites. Comrade Zoya spluttered into my face:

"You see, you see!"

"I do," I replied. "So now we know--it's they who are to cut our throats, and not we who are to cut theirs."

"Yes, now we know.... Look out, Varvana! You will be held answerable for everything! Did you ever hear of such a thing? Inciting one group of waifs against another!"

At last I was summoned to the office of a superior organization.

A clean-shaven man raised his head from his papers, and said:

"Sit down, Comrade Makarenko." Dzhurinskaya and Klyamer were also there.

I sat down.

"Are vou certain that you and your charges will be able to stop the rot in Kuryazh?" the clean-shaven man asked me quietly.

Surely I must have turned pale from the strain of looking straight into my interlocutor's eyes, and answering a question put in perfect good faith with a downright lie:

"Yes, I am."

The clean-shaven man gave one a steady glance, and went on:

"Now I have a purely technical question to ask you--a technical question, Comrade Klyamer, mind you, and not a question of principle--tell me, as briefly as you are able, why you want only fifteen teachers, and not forty, and what you have against a salary of forty rubles for them?"

After a moment's thought I replied:

"Well, then, to put it as briefly as I can--forty-ruble teachers are capable of causing the demoralization not only of a collective of homeless children, but of any collective in the world."

The clean-shaven man threw himself back in his chair, in a paroxysm of laughter, and then said, in a choking voice, pointing at Klyamer: "Even a collective consisting of Klyamers?

"Oh, definitely," I said gravely.

His official reserve seemed to have been blown away as by a gust of wind. He extended his arm towards Lyubov Savelyevna.

"That's just what I told you--the more there are, the less they're worth!"

Suddenly he nodded his head wearily, and returning to his brusque official manner, said to Dzhurinskaya:

"Let him take it over! And quick about it!"

"Twenty thousand," I said, getting up.

"You'll get it. Isn't it too much?"

"Not enough!"

"All right. Good-bye! You go there, but remember--the thing has got to be a complete success."

In the Gorky Colony the first stage of ardent determination had by now gradually passed into one of unhurried preparation, conducted with an almost military precision. Lapot was the real ruler of the colony, with Koval to help him at critical moments, but the task of ruling the colony was not a hard one. Never before had there been such an atmosphere of friendly solidarity, such a profound sense of collective responsibility. The slightest transgression was met with unmitigated astonishment, and a curt, expressive adjuration:

"And you mean to go to Kuryazh!"

No one in the colony could harbour any more doubts as to the true nature of the problem. The colonists did not so much know as feel the necessity of subordinating everything to the requirements of the collective, and that without any sense of sacrifice.

It was a joy, perhaps the deepest joy the world has to give--this feeling of interdependence, of the strength and flexibility of human relations, of the calm, vast power of the collective, vibrating in an atmosphere permeated with its own force. All this could be read in the colonists' eyes, in their movements, their expressions, their gait, their work. All eyes were turned to the north, where an ignorant horde, united by poverty, anarchy, and dull obstinacy, was waiting for us with fierce snarls behind thick walls.

I noticed that there was not the slightest boastfulness in the attitude of the colonists. Somewhere, deep down, everyone harboured a secret fear and uncertainty, heightened by the fact that the enemy had as yet been seen by no one.

My return from town was always awaited eagerly and impatiently, colonists were picketed on the roads, on trees, a lookout was kept from the roofs. As soon as I drove into the yard, a trumpeter would sound the signal for a general meeting without asking my permission. I would go meekly to the meeting. At that time it had become a custom to greet me with applause, as if I were a People's Actor. This applause was of course meant not so much for me, as for our common cause.

At last, in the beginning of May, I came to one such meeting with a signed agreement in my hand.

Under this agreement, and by special order of the People's Commissariat for Education, the Maxim Gorky Colony was to be transferred with all its members, staff, movables, livestock and inventory, to Kuryazh. The Kuryazh Colony was declared to be closed, its two hundred and eighty colonists and all its property were put at the disposal and under the management of the Gorky Colony. The entire staff of the Kuryazh Colony, with the exception of a few employees, was declared to be discharged from the moment the director of the Gorky Colony took over the management of Kuryazh.

I was requested to take over on the fifth of May, and to have completed the move by the fifteenth of May.

After I had read them the agreement and the order, the Gorkyites did not shout "hurrah!" and did not toss anyone up. In the midst of a general silence Lapot said:

"Let's write to Gorky about it. And remember, lads: no whining!"

"Very good--no whining!" squealed a little chap.

And Kalina Ivanovich waved his hand, and said.

"Go ahead, lads, don't be afraid!"