Furmanov, Dmitri Andreevich. Born in 7 November (New Style) 1891, the third
of seven children in Serenda (later renamed Furmanov), Kostroma
province. His father was a tavern keeper. In 1897, the family moved to
Ivanovo-Voznesensk. In 1905, he entered the town's commercial
academy. In 1909, he went on to secondary school in Kineshma, on the
Volga. In 1912, he enrolled in the University of Moscow, where he
studied literature. In November 1914, he became a nurse in the
army, serving on both the Caucaus and Turkish fronts. Then, in 1915, he was transferred to Kiev.
In October 1916, he returned to Ivanovo-Voznesensk and worked as a teacher for workers. After the October Revolution, he first supported the Social Revolutionaries and the anarchists before joining the Bolsheviks in July 1918. He became a member of the party's provincial executive committee. In 1919 he left for Sarama to join the Fourth Army. He was appointed political commissar of the 25th Infantry Division, led by Chapaev. In August 1919 he was transferred to the Turkestan front and assumed overall responsibility for political work. He served in Tashkent, Ferny (Alma-Ata) and the Kuban, where he was wounded and awarded the Order of the Red Banner. In 1921 he returned to Moscow to engage in political and editorial work. In 1923 he joined the "October" group of writers and was made political editor in the State Publishing House. One of his assignments there was to oversee the publication of Babel's Red Calvary Stories.
In March 1924, Furmanov became Secretary of the Moscow Association of Proletarian Writers. In March 1926 he contracted meningitis and died. He is buried in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.
His first published work was a poem "In Memory of D.D. Efremov", which appeared in an Ivano-Voznesensk newspaper in 1912. In 1916 a series of sketches from the front appeared in "Russkoye Slovo". "Red Landing" (Krasny Desant), a story about a Red Army operation against Wrangle's forces, appeared in 1923.
Furmanov's most famous novel, "Chapaev" (1923), is a chronical of events surrounding Vasili Ivanovich Chapaev's exploits during the civil war. Chapaev, as a Soviet hero, is not quite "politically correct". He believes that the international solidarity of workers is a myth. He has no idea of how a collective farm would work. His grand economic strategy is to seize 100 cows from the rich and give one cow to each of 100 peasants. He's a member of the Communist Party but has never read the Party platform and has no comprehension of what's in it. He is disdianfully dismissive of all "staffs" and the intelligentsia in general.
Chapaev is, however, a man of action much admired by the peasants. He is a great battle tactician and knows well how to motivate the troops...albeit sometimes through brutal measures. And although most of the time he talks nonsense, he is portrayed as having a constructive effect since he preaches industriousness and rails against greed, sloth, and wreckers of all kinds.
In the novel, Chapaev is accompanied by his faithful political commisar, Fyodor Klichkov, a stand-in for Furmanov himself, who served as commissar to the real-life Chapaev. Together with the Red Army, they battle across Siberia, turning the tide against the Whites, forcing Kolchak out of Ufa and the Cossacks out of Uralsk. Along the way Chapaev dances, sings, and flies into countless rages. Throughout it all, Klichkov remains calm, waits for Chapaev to cool down, then manipulates him to the proper political position.
The novel is a mix of journalism and literature. Perhaps today we would call it a "docu-drama". It is uneven in quality and shows signs of having been written in a hurry. This is not surprising, seeing as it was drawn from Furmanov's own battlefield notebooks. Furmanov admitted that there was a certain "chaos" in the construction of the book, even "contradictions". But, he said, this arose not so much from his inability to connect everything artistically, but from the basic chaotic nature of the Civil War itself. Perhaps the best description of Furmanov's goal for this work comes from the narrator of the novel who says:
"In our sketch we make no pretension to a complete narration of events, or to a strict observance of sequence or absolute accuracy in dates, places and names. We limit ourselves to a picture of the life that was born of the times and was characteristic of the times."That character of the times, Chapaev the loveable brute, became a folk hero in Soviet culture. A movie was make in 19xx based on the novel, and countless Chapaev jokes arose. (The Chapaev joke is, perhaps, second in popularity only to the Sterlitz joke). And now there is even a Chapaev video game, "Vasili Ivanovich and Petka Save the Galaxy".
Furmanov's next novel, "The Revolt" ("Myatezh"), is another civil war tale, this time set in Turkestan. It was completed in 1924 and published in 1925. Two collections of Furmanov's sketches and stories--"The Path of Struggle" and "Shtark" also came out in 1925. The novel "The Writers", reflecting the complex ideological struggle in Soviet literary circles at the time, remained unfinished at Furmanov's death. Other collections of his sketches and tales include "Seashores", "Unforgettable Days", and "The Blind Poet".
References: Luker, Nicholas. "From Furmanov to Sholokhov", Ardis 1988.