Lieutenant Peter Petrovich Schmidt: Officer, gentleman, and reluctant revolutionary


Robert Zebroski

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Jahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas


As a result of the maelstrom of events that characterized the Russian Revolution of 1905, Lieutenant Peter Petrovich Schmidt rose from an obscure torpedo boat commander to national prominence as a leader who promoted a vision of a democratic Russia where all people would be regarded as citizens. In November 1905 Lieutenant Schmidt led the largest naval uprising of his time in the name of human rights with a call for a civil society. His subsequent arrest, court-martial, and execution by a tsarist firing squad served the revolutionary cause and insured Schmidt's place in Russian history as an eloquent voice for democratic reform and ethnic equality. Schmidt personified the critical link between liberal democratic theory and mass action that had been missing in Russian politics. Schmidt's actions and speeches had great resonance among large sectors of the developing Russian public. By promoting his single demand for a freely elected Constituent Assembly, Schmidt had found the lowest common denominator that might have opened and promoted a national dialogue about human rights and a civil society. His goal was to establish an organization that would be sufficiently powerful to insure that this dialogue would remain open and thereby diminish the power of the tsarist bureaucracy which further reaffirmed itself with every repression of democratic action by marginalized groups in Russian society. He hoped that this could be accomplished nonviolently, but this was not to be and he would not live to see it. Perhaps what makes Schmidt an icon of the Revolution of 1905 was that he symbolized its fundamental traits. He was romantic, iconoclastic, and spontaneous, and these traits were a recurrent theme in the social disorders that occurred in Russia during 1905. Schmidt, a politically eclectic outsider, who lived on the periphery of aristocratic liberalism and on the fringes of social relations with his sailors served as a rather unique and unifying symbol of progressive fervor in the Black Sea fleet in 1905. Schmidt was a compassionate repentant nobleman who was able to combine an aristocrat's sense of noblesse oblige and his love of the sea into a common political language that the sailors and people of Sevastopol would remember for generations. © Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH.

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