Vasily was the son of shoe maker. He went on to work in the print department of the Revolutionary Military Council, moving on to ROSTO. He attended Moscow State University. He adopted the nickname Kumach, a name for a variety of red cloth used to symbolize revolution. In time the nickname was added to his surname.
His satirical verses published in such papers as Rabochaia gazeta, Krest’ianskaia gazeta, Gudok, and Krokodil led to his growing popularity.