In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution he established self-supporting orphanages for street children - including juvenile delinquents - left orphaned by the Russian Civil War. Among these establishments were the Gorky Colony and later the Dzerzhinsky Commune. Although there was some opposition by the authorities at the early stages of Makarenko's "experiments", the Soviet establishment eventually came to hail his colonies as a grand success in Communist education and rehabilitation. Among his key ideas were "as much exigence towards the person as possible and as much respect for him as possible", the use of positive peer pressure on the individual by the collective, and institutionalized self-government and self-management of that collective. He also rejected physical punishment.
Makarenko wrote several books, of which The Pedagogical Poem (Педагогическая поэма), a fictionalized story of the Gorky Colony, was especially popular in the USSR.
Like most things Soviet, Makarenko's ideas came under heavy critique after the fall of communism. His system has been accused of sharing many of the faults of Stalinism, giving the child collective too much power over the individual child, over-emphasizing discipline and leaving insufficient space for individual freedom.