Popov, Dimitri Ivanovich, 1892-1921

Dimitri Popov

A short biography of Dimitri Popov, sailor, Left Socialist Revolutionary and then anarchist and Makhnovist

Dimitri Popov was born in to a peasant family in the village of Kononova in the Klin district of Moscow province. After leaving school at fourteen he worked in the Moscow factories. In 1914 he was called up to active duty in the Baltic Fleet. He may have been in a group of anarchist sailors in spring 1917 but by summer of the same year he had joined the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries. As such he took part in the October armed uprising in Petrograd and became a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Left SRs. In late 1917 - early 1918 he was commander of the Red Guards in Karelia and formed the Red-Soviet Finnish detachment in Helsingfors, which in March 1918 on the orders of the Supreme Military Council was transferred to Moscow to work for the Moscow City Soviet. On 8th April 1918 this detachment became part of the Cheka as its combat squad. Popov was appointed its chief of staff. But on 6th- 7th July 1918 he took a leading role in the Left SR uprising against the Bolsheviks in Moscow during which he arrested the supreme head of the Cheka Dzerzhinsky and other Bolshevik leaders. However the Left SRs were concerned about what they saw as the shedding of the blood of their brothers and lacked the will to carry the insurrection through to its end; something which the Bolsheviks never had any qualms about. They also overestimated the support that they hoped to harvest with the announcemenrt of an uprising. The Left SRS had been a party of 100,000 by summer 1918 but the Bolsheviks used the uprising to deliver a blow from which the Left SRs mever recovered. After the suppression of the rebellion he had to go into hiding. He later explained these actions in a speech where he said that the Left SRs were not opposed to a Soviet regime but not as it was presently constituted and that it was led by a conciliatory gang under Trotsky and Lenin which on a daily basis carried out arrests and executions of workers. On November 27th 1918 the revolutionary tribunal of the Central Executive Committee of the Bolsheviks declared him an enemy of the workers and an outlaw, sentenced him to death in absentia and announced that he should be shot on arrest.
In December 1918 he fled to Kharkov. Here as a member of the Central Committee the Left SRs in the Ukraine he organised an uprising against the Directorate led by Petliura. In early 1919 under the pseudonym of Kormilitsyn he joined the Red Army and served as deputy commander under V. Sablin with the 11th Ukrainian Soviet regiment. As such he took part in the liberation of Kharkov and other cities. However during the battle to free Bakhmut he was identified by the Bolsheviks. Fearing arrest he went to Kharkov and then on to a congress of the Left SRs in Kiev. After the capture of the city by the Whites at the end of August 1919 he went into hiding.
In autumn 1919 in Novomoskovsk county in Ekaterinoslav province he organised an armed band to fight the Whites which joined the Makhnovists in October or November 1919. He successively commanded the 2nd Sulina, 24th Ternovskii and 3rd Ekaterynoslavsky insurgent regiments. He participated in the battles against the Whites including that of Alexandrovsk in December 1919.He began to read anarchist literature, principally the work of Kropotkin, and broke with the Left SRs declaring himself an anarchist communist, though never officially joining the Nabat Confederation of Anarchists. From January to March 1920, being sick with typhus, he hid from Red persecution in one of the villages in the area Gulyai Polye area, along with other Makhnovist commanders. Since the end of March 1920 he was again active in the Makhnovist movement. He conducted anarchist and Makhnovist agitation among the peasants and engaged in cultural and educational work. He delivered speeches against the Bolsheviks but stated that it was necessary to prioritise the struggle against the White counter-revolution. At the end of May 1920 was elected a member of the Makhnovist Council and from June 1920 was its Secretary. He participated in the attacks on the Reds in the summer. On 29th – 30th September 1920 on behalf of the Council he led talks by telegraph with Bolshevik representatives in the Ukraine on the cessation of hostilities and an agreement for a joint struggle against Wrangel. On October 10th 1920, together with Vasili Kurylenko as members of the Makhnovist Diplomatic Commission he signed an agreement between the Bolsheviks and the Makhnovists at Kharkov. However, he appears to have had doubts about this treaty. As a Makhnovist representative on the southern front he behaved provocatively, openly opposed the Soviet government, and organised drinking parties on an almost daily basis at his flat. This brought down the disapproval of Makhno who sent him a letter reminding him that this post carried great responsibility and that it was “ not acceptable to hear again about your careless attitude” and that “I hope that following reports of your work will be different, more encouraging to us all.” Whilst in Kharkov he worked on the Makhnovist paper The Voice of the Makhnovists and took part in anarchist rallies in the city calling for the third revolution.
He returned to Gulyai Polye on 11th November 1920 and was approved as secretary of staff of the Crimean group of the Makhnovists mobilised to attack Wrangel. He took part in the storming of the Crimea.
On the night of November 26-27th, 1920, together with other Makhnovist commanders on the southern front he was arrested at Dzankhoy by the Bolsheviks and on the instructions of Dzerzhinsky sent to the Moscow Cheka. The Bolsheviks had had a particular hatred for him
ever since the Left SR uprising. He was shot there in May 1921 after a death sentence delivered by the Cheka. The anarchist renegade Isaac Teper writing an account of the Makhnovist movement under the supervision of the Cheka claimed that Popov was implicated in the worst practices of the the Makhnovist counter-intelligence the kontrrazvedka (see the libcom biography of Lev Zadov)and looked into various forms of torture and murder and that he had sworn to kill 300 Bolsheviks , but when Teper first met him had only killed 190. All of these allegations should be taken with a large sack of salt, especially as Popov rarely features in other accounts of the kontrrazvedka. In the statement at this trial he stated that he had been in favour of an alliance with the Bolsheviks, although Viktor Belash contradicts this in his Memoirs edited under Cheka supervision.
Nick Heath
Sources: www.makhno.ru
Statement of Popov to Cheka tribunal at http://kortic.borda.ru/?1-17-30-00000023-000-30-0
Picture of Popov ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Попов,_Дмитрий_Иванович