Olga Kameneva

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Olga Kameneva
Chairwoman of the Soviet Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries
In office

Olga Davidovna Kameneva (Russian: Ольга Давыдовна Каменева, Ukrainian: Ольга Давидiвна Каменева; 1883 – 11 September 1941) (née Bronstein — Бронштейн) was a Russian Bolshevik revolutionary and a Soviet politician. She was the sister of Leon Trotsky and the first wife of Lev Kamenev.

Childhood and revolutionary career (1883–1917)

Olga Kameneva was born in Yanovka, Kherson Governorate, Russian Empire (present-day Kirovohrad Oblast, Ukraine), a small village 15 miles from the nearest post office. She was one of two daughters of a wealthy but illiterate farmer, David Leontyevich Bronstein (or Bronshtein, 1847–1922), a Jewish colonist, and Anna Bronstein (1850 - 1910). Although the family was of Jewish extraction, they were not religious and the languages spoken at home were Russian and Ukrainian, not Yiddish.[1]

Olga Bronstein joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1902 [1] and soon married Lev Kamenev, a fellow Marxist revolutionary. In 1908, after Lev Kamenev's release from prison, the Kamenevs left Russia for Geneva and then Paris, where Lev Kamenev became one of Vladimir Lenin's two deputies. The couple helped Lenin edit the main Bolshevik magazine Proletariy. In January 1914 the Kamenevs moved to St. Petersburg so that Lev could be in immediate control of the Bolsheviks' legal newspaper Pravda and their Duma faction.

Theater and CPSU's Women's Section (1918–1920)

In early 1918, after the October Revolution of 1917, Kameneva was put in charge of the Theater Division (TEO) of the People's Commissariat for Education. Working with theatrical director and theorist Vsevolod Meyerhold, she tried to radicalize Russian theaters, effectively nationalizing them under Bolshevik control. However, Meyerhold came down with tuberculosis in May 1919 and had to leave for the south. In his absence, the head of the Commissariat, Anatoly Lunacharsky, secured Lenin's permission to revise government policy in favor of more traditional theaters and dismissed Kameneva in June.[2]

From the time it was organized in October 1919, Kameneva was a member of the board of directors of the Soviet Communist Party's Women's Section.[3] In 1920 she supported People's Commissar of Public Health Nikolai Semashko's opinion that contraception was "unquestionably harmful" and should not be advocated.[4]

Managing Soviet contacts with the West (1921-1928)

In 1921-1923 Kameneva was a leading member of the Central Commission for Fighting the After-Effects of the Famine [5] and oversaw a propaganda campaign against the American Relief Administration (ARA) under Herbert Hoover in the Soviet press. In 1923-1925 she was the head of the short-lived Commission for Foreign Relief (KZP), a Soviet governmental commission that regulated and then liquidated remaining Western charities in the Soviet Union.[6] In 1926-1928 Kameneva served as chairman of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries ("Voks", Vsesoiuznoe Obshchestvo Kul'turnoi Sviazi s Zagranitsei) [7] In that capacity she greeted many prominent Western visitors to the Soviet Union, e.g. Le Corbusier[8] and Theodore Dreiser,[9] and represented the Soviet Union at the festivities in Vienna commemorating the centennial of Ludwig van Beethoven's death in March–April 1927.[10] Throughout the 1920s she also ran a leading literary salon in Moscow.[11]

In the early 1920s Kameneva's family life began to disintegrate starting with Lev Kamenev's reputed affair with the British sculptor Clare Sheridan in 1920.[12] In the late 1920s he left Olga Kameneva for Tatiana Glebova,[13] with whom he had a son, Vladimir Glebov (1929-1994).[14]

Fall from power and execution (1928-1941)

Kameneva quickly lost her influence after Kamenev and Trotsky's fall from power in 1927. On 27 July 1935 the NKVD (Soviet secret police) Special Board banned her from Moscow and Leningrad for 5 years in connection with the Kremlin Case.[15] After Lev Kamenev's show trial and execution on 25 August 1936, she was arrested and imprisoned. Her younger son, Yuri Lvovich Kamenev, was executed on 30 January 1938 at the age of 17. Her older son, Air Force officer Alexander Lvovich Kamenev, was executed on 15 July 1939 at the age of 33.

In 1941, she was in Oryol Prison. Olga Kameneva was shot on 11 September 1941 in the Medvedev forest outside Orel together with Christian Rakovsky, Maria Spiridonova and 160 other prominent political prisoners in the Medvedev Forest massacre. This execution was one of the many NKVD massacres of prisoners committed in 1941.


  1. Trotsky, Leon; My Life, Charles Schribner’s Sons, New York (1930) Chapter 1
  2. Leach, Robert and Borovsky, Victor; A History of Russian Theatre, Cambridge University Press, (1999), pg. 303, ISBN 0-521-43220-0
  3. Wood, Elizabeth A.; The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia, Indiana University Press, (1997), pg. 80-81, ISBN 0-253-21430-0
  4. Wood, Elizabeth A.; op. cit, p. 110
  5. Debs, Eugene V.; Gentle Rebel: Letters of Eugene V. Debs, edited by J. Robert Constantine, University of Illinois, (1995), pg. 223-224, ISBN 0-252-06324-4
  6. Trott, Margaret A.; Passing through the Eye of the Needle: American Philanthropy and Soviet Medical Research in the 1920s in Rockefeller Philanthropy and Modern Biomedicine: International Initiatives from World War to the Cold War, Bloomington, IN, Indiana University Press, (2002), pg. 148, ISBN 0-253-34151-5
  7. Harper, Samuel N.; The Russia I Believe In: The Memoirs of Samuel N. Harper 1902 to 1941, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, (1945), p. 143.
  8. Cohen, Jean-Luis; Le Corbusier and the Mystique of the USSR, Princeton, Princeton University Press, (1992), pp. 41-43, 54, 117, quoted in Alice T. Friedman, Glamour a MoMo: Women's Roles in the Modern Movement in Back from Utopia: The Challenge of the Modern Movement, Uitgeverij 010 Publishers, (2002), pg. 321, ISBN 90-6450-483-0
  9. Theodore Dreiser: Interviews, eds. Frederic E. Rusch and Donald Pizer, University of Illinois, 2004, pp. 172-173. ISBN 0-252-02943-7
  10. Nelson, Amy Music for the Revolution: Musicians and Power in Early Soviet Russia, Pennsylvania State University Press, (2004), pg. 193. ISBN 0-271-02369-4 Also see Kameneva's article "Beethoven als Erzieher in Sowjetrussland" in Neue Freie Press, March 29, 1927.
  11. Fitzpatrick, Sheila; Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union 1921-1934, Cambridge University Press, (1979), pg. 83. ISBN 0-521-89423-9
  12. Kehoe, Elisabeth; The Titled Americans: Three American Sisters and the English Aristocratic World Into Which They Married, Atlantic Monthly Press, (2004) pg.325. ISBN 0-87113-924-3
  13. Conquest, Robert; The Great Terror: A Reassessment, New York, Oxford University Press, (1990), pg. 76. ISBN 0-19-505580-2 and ISBN 0-19-507132-8 (pbk)
  14. Parrish, Michael; The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939-1953, Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers, (1996), pg. 69. ISBN 0-275-95113-8
  15. Conquest, Robert, op. cit., pg. 78.