Lev Borisovich Kamenev

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(18831836), Bolshevik leader, Soviet state official, purged and executed under Stalin.

Born July 18, 1883, in Moscow and raised in Tbilisi, Lev Borisovich Rosenfeld entered the revolutionary movement while studying law at Moscow University. In 1901 he joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) and adopted the pseudonym Kamenev ("man of stone"). In 1903 the RSDLP split into two factions, and Kamenev aligned himself with the Bolsheviks and Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin). Kamenev's revolutionary activities brought several arrests and brief periods of exile. During the 1905 Revolution, Kamenev proved an outstanding orator and organizer. In 1908 he joined Lenin's inner circle in exile, then led the Bolshevik faction in Russia's State Duma. In November 1914, tsarist police arrested Kamenev for endorsing Lenin's "defeatist" position on the war and exiled him to Siberia.

The February 1917 Revolution brought Kamenev back to Petrograd. He initially rejected Lenin's "April Thesis" and on the Bolshevik Central Committee (CC) opposed the idea of seizing power. Instead he endorsed an all-socialist coalition government. On October 23, 1917, the CC endorsed Lenin's call for insurrection; Kamenev balked. He resigned from the CC on October 29, but rejoined it during the October Revolution and became chair of the Central Executive Committee of Soviets (CEC). Still he pursued an all-socialist coalition. Because the CC rejected these efforts, Kamenev again quit on November 17, 1917. He also resigned from the CEC, on November 21, 1917, after the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) issued decrees without CEC approval. Kamenev recanted on December 12, 1917, and rejoined the CC in March 1918.

Afterward, Kamenev held high-level government and Party positions, including chair of the Moscow Soviet (1919January 1926), and memberships on the Sovnarkom (19221926), the Council of Labor and Defense (19221926), the CC (19181926), and the Politburo (19191926). A "triumvirate" of Kamenev, Grigory Zinoviev, and Josef Stalin assumed tacit control of the Party and state in 1923, as Lenin lay dying, and engaged in a fierce campaign of mutual incrimination against Leon Trotsky over economic policy and bureaucratization. By January 1925 the triumvirate had defeated Trotsky's Left Opposition, but a rift emerged pitting Kamenev and Zinoviev against Stalin and the Politburo's right wing. In December 1925, Kamenev criticized Stalin's dictatorial tendencies at the Fourteenth Party Congress; this led to his condemnation as a member of the New Opposition. Demoted to candidate Politburo status, Kamenev was stripped of important state posts. In the spring of 1926, he and Zinoviev joined Trot-sky in a United Opposition, criticizing the CC majority's "pro-peasant" version of the New Economic Policy. The majority stripped him of Politburo membership in October 1926. The United Opposition continued in vain through 1927; the majority removed Kamenev from the CC on November 14, and the Party's Fifteenth Congress expelled him on December 2, 1927. In ritual self-abnegation, he recanted and was readmitted to the Party in June 1928. He subsequently held minor posts, and faced the threat of arrest.

Kamenev was arrested, again expelled from the Party, and exiled to Siberia in October 1932, for purported association with Martemian Ryutin's oppositionist group. Released, then readmitted to the Party in December 1933, he briefly served in Moscow bureaucratic publishing posts. On December 16, 1934, he was arrested once more, for alleged complicity in the murder of Sergei Kirov. At a January 16, 1935, secret trial he was falsely convicted for conspiring to kill Kirov and sentenced to five years imprisonment; an additional five-year sentence was added after a second secret trial in July 1935, for allegedly plotting to kill Stalin. In

July 1936, Kamenev conceded to Stalin's demand for a public show trial. This August 1936 spectacle concluded with sixteen "Trotskyist-Zinovievist plotters" convicted on a range of fantastic charges, including spying for the Nazis. Despite Stalin's promise to spare the lives of Old Bolsheviks, all were condemned to death. On August 24, 1936, Kamenev was executed alongside Zinoviev.

See also: show trials; stalin, josef vissarionovich; zinoviev, grigory yevseyevich


Rabinowitch, Alexander. (1976). The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd. New York: Norton.

Schapiro, Leonard. (1971). The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 2nd ed. New York: Vintage.

Tucker, Robert C. (1990). Stalin in Power: The Revolution From Above, 19281941. New York: Norton.

Voskresensky, Lev. (1989). Names That Have Returned: Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, Grigori Zinovyev, Lev Kamenev, Grigori Sokolnikov, Martemyan Ryutin. Moscow: Novosti.

Michael C. Hickey

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Lev Borisovich Kamenev

The Russian politician Lev Borisovich Kamenev (1883-1936) was a leader of the prerevolutionary Social Democratic movement, as well as major official in the Soviet government and Communist party after 1917.

Lev Kamenev, whose family name was Rosenfeld, was born in Moscow, the son of a skilled laborer. He completed his secondary schooling in the Georgian town of Tiflis, where he apparently first came into contact with members of the Russian Social Democratic revolutionary movement. Kamenev's attempt to continue his education at Moscow University was punctuated by his participation in political discussion groups and demonstrations and, finally, in his arrest (1902). It was at this time that he emigrated briefly to western Europe, where he met and formed a lasting attachment to V. I. Lenin and other future Bolshevik leaders. After this, Kamenev's life took on a pattern familiar in the careers of many Russian revolution-aries—arrest, escape or release, followed by renewed work in the revolutionary movement, followed by fresh difficulties with authorities.

Kamenev, like many of his colleagues, was in prison at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of March 1917. After he obtained release through a general amnesty, Kamenev began working in the Soviet (or representative council) of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies of Petrograd. His expectation of failure of the revolution placed him in direct opposition to Lenin. In response to Lenin's urging that the Bolsheviks should seize and hold political power, Kamenev argued for caution regarding the issue of seizure of power and for a postrevolutionary coalition government composed of all socialist parties. In spite of his publicly proclaimed doubt of the outcome, he continued to work with the party throughout the revolutionary and postrevolutionary period. Thus, he became first chairman of the revolutionary Central Executive of Soviets (1917) and, later, chairman of the Council of Peoples' Commissars (1919). In addition, he was a member (1919-1925) of the Politburo (executive committee) of the party and held dominant positions in the local party apparatus of the city of Moscow.

When Lenin died in 1924, no single personality immediately succeeded to his position of leadership. Instead, a triumvirate of leaders, Grigori Zinoviev, Joseph Stalin, and Kamenev, combined to prevent the strongest individual claimant, Leon Trotsky, from succeeding to power. In the ensuing struggle, Stalin gradually increased his following and his real power. By late 1925 Stalin had begun to ease Kamenev out of his formal positions in the party and state bureaucracies. By 1926-1927 Kamenev held the relatively insignificant position of ambassador to Italy. This was followed by exclusion, readmission, and, again, exclusion from the party (1927-1932), and in 1935 he was arrested for "moral complicity" in the assassination of one of Stalin's strongest supporters, Sergei Kirov. In 1936 he was rearraigned on charges of treason. In the first of the "show trials" of the Great Purge, Kamenev was found guilty of treason and shot.

Further Reading

Kamenev is discussed in various studies of the early history of the Soviet Union. A useful study of the October Revolution is Robert V. Daniels, Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967). Kamenev's character and career are covered in Isaac Deutscher's superb study of Trotsky, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921 (1954), The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 1921-1929 (1959), and The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky, 1929-1940 (1963). Background material on Kamenev's general role in the party is in Leonard B. Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1960). □

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