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 on Lev Borisovich Kamenev

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).