Children of Revolution

IX. The Musical Shoemaker

MOST children came to the John Reed Colony because they were sent by children's homes or boards of education; and some drifted in like tramps and stayed for the sake of food and shelter. But Morosof came because he believed in the ideal of the colony and wanted to give his life to it. He was sixteen years old when he applied for entrance--a young man making his own decisions.

Morosof is leader of our orchestra now; he is also one of our best shoe-makers. He is always being elected chairman of responsible committees. We trusted him to go to Saratov for a five days' buying trip to select mandolins and guitars and balalaikas, and to purchase all the tools needed in the shoe-shop. And he brought them back on the steamer, and sat up all day and all night without sleep to guard them. "For I had valuable baggage, and who would look after it if I went to sleep?" he said.

Wherever Morosof goes, his pleasant serious manner makes friends for the colony. Down in Saratov he met the head of the State Trust that was trying to take away the big Alexeivka farm from the children. After he saw Morosof he changed his mind completely. "I thought you had only bad street boys who would steal the apples of our orchard," he said in amazement. "I never dreamed you had big, responsible fellows like this..." Then Morosof grew red and redder and said not a word, for he knew that even the big boys sometimes stole apples. But when he came back to the colony, he told the boys about it, and said they must all behave now, since the head of the Trust believed in them.

Morosof helps organize our group of shoemakers. In another year, he thinks, if they have tools and a chance to practise, they can let the instructor go and take orders all by themselves. They can work for peasants and even perhaps for shoe stores. They can take in younger boys and teach them also, and they can get books and learn the theory of shoe-making as well as the practise. And books about leather and where it comes from.

Then, according to Morosof's ideas, he will not leave the colony at all, to hunt for a job elsewhere, but the colony will become a grown-up commune without any hired instructors. Only, remembering how the state helped them get started when they were homeless children, they also will take in ever more and more homeless children, growing always, taking more farms, and mills and creameries and factories, till they spread like a great commune into all parts of the state of Saratov, and become part of the organizing life of the greater growing Commune of the United Soviet Republics of the World.

That is what Morosof saw in the John Reed Colony, when it was only a badly organized band of hungry children, sleeping in haystacks or on floors of ruined buildings, and when he himself was an orphan in the village of Selidba, and a member of the Young Communists there. Now he is president of our Organizing Committee, and a member of the Bureau of our Comsomol, besides being our chief musician.

Morosof's father was an unskilled worker on the docks of Astrakan, and his mother was a servant girl and a laundress, working in hotels. Most of our children come from large families, and have three to ten brothers and sisters; but Morosof was an only child, for his father died in the year of his birth. His mother lived by odd jobs in lodging houses and private families, and young Morosof was knocked about in servants' quarters until he was ten years old. It is hard to see how this life produced our president and chief musician.

The Revolution came to the city of Astrakan when Morosof was ten years old. He remembers the strike of the soldiers and the disorder that followed. Hungry soldiers went around robbing stores, and underfed Persian workers revolted against their Russian masters and went out with long knives to take what they could find. Always there were meetings and voting and discussions: "Who is for the czar? Who is for the Soviets?" The manager of the hotel where Morosof's mother worked went round among the servants and paid them five or ten roubles apiece to vote for the czar; but this was only a few cents in the already sinking money. For all that, the vote went heavily for the Soviet power.

Young Morosof hung round meetings when the Red Guards organized and elected officers, and unearthed or commandeered weapons, and declared that they would establish "revolutionary order" and stop the lawlessness and stealing. He saw the taking of the fortress in Astrakan, and the fighting which sent up in flames all the buildings around the Theater Square. Then, when the boss of the hotel fled away, together with the other bosses, Morosof's mother, who felt strange and insecure without a master, went home to her almost forgotten folks in the northern village of Selidba. "She was not very developed and did not understand the Revolution," says young Morosof, excusing his mother. He himself was eleven years old then, but he understood it.

Typhus raged across the land in the path of retreating, demoralized, ragged soldiers. The district hospital in Selidba was filled to over-flowing, and Morosof's mother got easily a job as laundress. It was a fine job, with high wages; but it was deadly to Morosof's mother. She caught typhus from the soiled linen and died a few weeks later, leaving her boy with his poor and aged grandmother.

And now, for the first time, Morosof went to school, and finished three classes in two years. Then came the Hungry Year and he went with five hundred other children in a freight car to the lands of bread. Two winters he spent in Kostroma and finished the fifth grade there. He studied natural science and geography, and mathematics and hygiene and the Russian language. He is the best educated boy in the whole colony. He also studied shoe-making. Then they sent him home to Selidba, for he was sixteen years old now, and he lived again with his grandmother and worked for peasants in return for food.

It was there that he heard of the colony, and dreamed his dream of what it might be, and came and applied to the General Assembly of the children, and he was voted in. "It is better here than in the children's homes," he said to me. "For here we own the colony; there is no limit. They do not say: 'When you are sixteen, you must leave and make room for others.' But the older you grow the better you can work for the colony. It is all ours and we must all work to make it better. That is how life should be in a commune.

"When I entered the shoe-shop there was no leather, and only instruments enough for six people. Then Yavorskaia came from Moscow bringing sole-leather, and Poliakof came with instruments. But to get leather for uppers we had to wait often, buying ten roubles worth at a time. Yet we made 140 pair of shoes last winter for the colony, and six pair for the teachers and five pair to order for peasants. We also repaired all the 140 pair at least twice. We would have enough shoes for everyone now, but they sent forty boys from Volsk, who were hooligans picked up from the streets. They stayed just long enough to get shoes and then they went away, taking their own shoes and another pair with them. They also stole blankets and sold them in the Volsk bazaar. It is hard to make order, and so much work goes for nothing.

"We have fourteen shoemakers now. Eight of them are good ones. Four can make shoes even without an instructor, good enough shoes to sell in the market. I think we should not take any more shoemakers yet, because there is not leather enough. And we all need practise, practise. If we take more shoemakers, no one will have practise and we will all be long in learning.

"But if we fourteen have plenty of practise this winter, then we can organize our shop without any instructor, and begin to look for orders and even work for the market and the shoe-stores. Then we can take in more and more young shoemakers and train them also, teaching them ourselves without any paid instructor."

I asked Morosof what he wanted to do when he became an expert shoemaker. Would he go to the city to look for work? "I want," he said, "to help build the commune. It is as well here as anywhere. I have no home, and no property, and the city does not interest me. I have been to Saratov and to Astrakan; they are both big cities, but I like it better here. We will build our commune here, and no one will say: 'This is mine, and that is yours'--but everything we see, all the land and the buildings and the mill and the shops, we will say: 'They are all ours.'

"But Kersoff has gone off to Baku, and I thought he was truly one of us. He went because he had an uncle and a chance to be his own boss and own property. But I do not see the use of property; I think it is better not to own it. The October Revolution taught us to organize the commune. Even peasants begin now to do this; how much more can homeless children, who have no homes or property to begin with?"

"But," I inquire, "when the colony grows up large, you cannot have more than two hundred people. And if you marry and have families, there will be no room; and if you take in more homeless children, there will be still less room. But if you stop taking in homeless children, then you will be just a grown-up group of two hundred people, living for yourselves and with property belonging to two hundred people instead of to one. How is that any better?"

Morosof had his answer ready. "There are many Soviet farms badly run, and losing money. We can take them over; we can have new sections to our colony. And after the Soviet farms are gone, there is still much empty land, when we shall be strong enough to build our own houses and barns. And if the homeless children shall all be gone, there are still children of peasants, who live very badly and will want to join our commune. And the land will not be gone, and the children will not stop coming--no, not in all the time that I shall live.

"But the bad thing is that our organization is weak. There is Kerjsoff, who was a good comrade, and who goes off to Baku to have property. There are others who are lazy and dirty and who eat the tomatoes off the vines instead of putting them in the kitchen. There are girls who want the job of cow-girl so that they can drink more than their share of milk. Half of the colonists are Young Communists, but many are not much developed. And Volsk sends us boys from the streets, who steal our shoes and blankets.

"Yet already we see that life goes better than last year. Last year we worked one hundred and fifty acres in four different fields; this year we are working nearly four hundred in one big farm. Last year there were tools for six shoemakers, this year for fourteen. Last year we had no school, but now we have repaired a school, with club-rooms and a theater. We are repairing the big mill and it will give us much bread. We have repaired the thresher and are threshing grain for all the peasants, and earning food from it also. We are even going to have an orchestra, guitars, mandolins, balalaikas!

"But most of the serious ones are sick, because we did the work of the others. Nazipaef, Stesha, Shubina and I--we are all sick often. For when the harvest came and the malaria with it, it was too much for us. But now in winter is the time of rest and learning. We have both food and fuel. We must strengthen our organization and enforce its will on the shirkers. The shoemakers must take orders and earn money to buy tools for a better shoe-shop. We must have order and keep accounts, so that the shoe-making money does not all go to buy cows, leaving the shoe-shop to stop from wornout tools. This happened to our carpenter shop, that last winter took orders. And they made more than a hundred roubles, but the colony bought a cow with it, and now the carpenter's tools are worn out and they cannot take more orders. Of course we also need cows, and every department must help the whole colony. But it must not ruin itself to do it. For this we need so much order and so many accounts and so much planning."

When Morosof finished speaking, he picked up the shoe-making tools he had bought in Saratov and took them to deposit with the boy who kept the warehouse, receiving a receipt which he took to the office. Then he consulted about the place to put the musical instruments, which every child so thirsted to lay hands on that there was no safe place in the colony. They decided at last to take them to the Soviet Farm and leave them with the orchestra instructor, but he let Morosof himself take care of the mandolin, and practise on it to get ready for the "music circle."

By this time it was nearly six o'clock in the evening and Morosof had spent two days and a night without sleeping. But still without rest, he set off for the sixteen-mile walk to the Cherumshan Houses to deliver an important letter to Yeremeef.

And I went out to the kitchen, and thence to the new school and club-house where the whitewashing is almost finished. I saw the groves near the Big House filled with human animal filth from our disorderly habits; I heard boys complaining from the kitchen that the girls had baked sour bread; and the girls complaining that the tractorist would not give them kerosene for their lamp when they had to bake at night, and that the boys had stolen the lamp anyway; I heard one girl weeping because a boy had torn her last undershirt as it hung on the picket fence to dry; and the boy retorting that she had torn it in the wash... But I also saw Shubina, arisen from malaria, trudging off to the barn to milk the cows at the appointed hour.

I saw gardens filled with weeds, broken fences, disorder. But beyond them I saw acres of ploughed fields, black and soft, through which Marin, our tractorist, was steadily pushing the tractor. Black and rich they rolled up to the horizon and there met other acres of stubble from which we had just cut a whole year's supply of wheat. And down from a gap in the hills came great hayricks loaded With lucerne from our farthest acres, where the land lies in a gentle valley close to the pine and oak forests. And against the western sunset rose the smoke of our donkey-engine, where the thresher was threshing grain for a dozen peasants.

The cloudless blue of the sky darkened slowly, and filled with a million stars. And the noisy wrangling in the kitchen was drowned by the songs of the boys returning from the thresher and the lucerne fields, weary and glad of the work accomplished. And I thought of Morosof, still trudging on for another three hours in the starlight, to carry his important letter to the Cherumshan Houses. And I knew that in all his talk of work, and accounts, and organization, and sickness--of lack of tools, and lack of faithful workers, yet steady, painful progress--he had been telling me the story not only of John Reed Children's Colony, but of the whole great structure of Russia.