Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

‘A Crude Orgy of Drunken Violence’: A Russian Account of the Brisbane ‘Red Flag Riots’ of 1919

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2010), 99, (1), 165–178.


In 1919, an illegal Russian-language newspaper published in Brisbane devoted a considerable amount of space to the events surrounding the Red Flag procession of 23 March and the violence and destruction which followed. The newspaper, entitled Nabat (The Tocsin) was largely the work of the two men who led the march, Alexander Zuzenko and Herman Bykoff, both of whom were soon deported to Soviet Russia. The first issue of Nabat, dated 6 August 1919, carried an anonymous report of the demonstration, clearly the work of a participant, identified here as Bykoff. The report continues in the second and last issue, with details of the immediate aftermath of the demonstration. An annotated translation of Bykoff’s report is given here, preceded by an extended introduction which places the report in its historical context. No other detailed account of the event by a Russian participant exists. Nabat is itself a bibliographical rarity.

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1.Raymond Evans, The Red Flag Riots: A Study of Intolerance,University of Queensland Press,, 1988. See alsoEvans‘‘Agitation, Ceaseless Agitation: Russian Radicals in Australia and the Red Flag Riots’, inJohn McNair andThomas Poole(eds), Russia and the Fifth Continent: Aspects of Russian Australian Relations,University of Queensland Press,, 1992, pp.125-;Raymond Evans, ‘“Some furious outbursts of riot”: returned soldiers and Queensland’s “Red Flag” disturbances, 1918-1919’, War and Society, vol.3, no.2, 1985, pp.75-98;Raymond Evans, Loyalty and Disloyalty: Social Conflict on the Queensland Homefront, 1914-1918,Allen & Unwin,, 1987;Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland,Cambridge University Press,, 2007;Raymond Evans andCarole Ferrier, Radical Brisbane,The Vulgar Press,, 2004. Google Scholar

2.‘Bolshevik outburst in Brisbane’, The Proletariat, 29March1919, p.1. Google Scholar

4.See, for example,Kevin Windle, ‘Standard-bearer of the Australian revolution: the interrogation of Aleksandr Zuzenko by Special Branch. An annotated transcript’, New Zealand Slavonic Journal, vol.39, 2005, pp.175-215;Kevin Windle, ‘Zhurnalist i revoliutsioner na trekh kontinentakh: A.M. Zuzenko’, Tynianovskii sbornik, no.12, 2006, pp.452-68. Google Scholar

5.See in particularA. Matulichenko [Zuzenko], ‘Kak ia, anarkhist, stal lenintsem’, Novoe russkoe slovo, 16February1921, p.2, (continued 17 and 18 February 1921). Google Scholar

6.SeeKevin Windle, ‘“Unmajestic bombast”: the Brisbane Union of Russian Workers as shown in a 1919 play’, Australian Slavonic and East European Studies, vol.19, nos.1-2, 2005, pp.29-51. Google Scholar

7.Civa Zuzenko, interview with Eric Fried, 1990. I am grateful to Eric Fried for making the videorecording available. Google Scholar

8.A. Rezanoff[Bykoff], ‘Rus’ avstraliiskaia’, p.8, National Archives of Australia (hereafter NAA), BP4/1 Box 4 66/4/2165. Google Scholar

9.NAA,‘Rus’ avstraliiskaia’, p.12, BP4/1 Box 4 66/4/2165. Google Scholar

10.SeeKevin Windle, ‘Nabatand its editors: the 1919 swansong of the Brisbane Russian socialist press’, Australian Slavonic and East European Studies, vol.21, nos1-2, 2007, pp.143-63. Re-issued online inDavid Wells(ed.), Themes and Variations in Slavic Languages and Cultures: AustralianContributions to the XIV International Congress of Slavists, Ohrid 2008, Perth, 2008, pp.23-48. Google Scholar

11.NAA, BP4/1 66/4/2165. A photocopy of the NAA copy is held in the Poole-Fried Collection, Fryer Library, University of Queensland, UQFL 336, Box 21, Folder 2. Google Scholar

12.‘Biulleten’ Soiuza russkikh rabochikh v Avstralii’, no. 1913/BIu-12A, Central Museum of Modern Russian History. I am grateful to the management and staff of the Museum, in particular to Ol’ga Ivanovna Litvinova, for assistance in locating this material. Google Scholar

13.The date of writing is later than 26 August. Fanny Rosenberg and her mother, Dora, had written letters to William Watt, the Acting Prime Minister, and received a reply with that date, assuring them that Civa was in good health and in Egypt. Prime Minister’s Department: Russians leaving Australia – individual cases: NAA, A2 (A2/1), 1920/1025. Fanny refers to a letter from Civa herself, which she also mentioned in a letter to theInternational Socialist, 13September1919. Watt’s reply appears to have reached her before Civa’s letter. Google Scholar

14.SeeNAA,N. Lagutin, late secretary, Russian Club, Brisbane, BP4/1 66/4/3557, and NAA, ‘Summary of Communism’, A6122/40, Item 111, esp. p.65;Windle, ‘Nabatand its Editors’, p.161. Google Scholar

15.NAA, ‘O tom, kak my uchimsia samoupravleniiu i kontroliu’, BP4/1, 66/4/2165. For a study of this play, identifying the individuals half-concealed by the charactonyms, seeWindle, ‘Unmajestic Bombast’. Google Scholar

16.NAA,Lagutin, BP4/1 66/4/3557. His deportation had been recommended on at least two previous occasions, once by Major H.E. Jones on 21 December 1918. NAA, ‘Conditions in Queensland’, A456 (A456/4), W26/241. See also NAA, Bolshevism in Queensland, Department of Defence, 5 April 1919, to Acting Prime Minister, A3934 (A3934/1), SC5/1. It should be noted that this Nikolai Lagutin is not the same as the Corporal Nikolai Lagutin treated by Elena Govor in herRussian Anzacs in Australian History,UNSW Press,, 2005, p.138. Google Scholar

17.SeeWindle, ‘Nabatand its Editors’, pp.156-57. Google Scholar

18.NAA, ‘Rus’ avstraliiskaia’, BP4/1 66/4/2165; seeWindle, ‘Nabatand its editors’, pp.156-57. Google Scholar

19.‘Neskol’ko slov ob angliiskom rabochem’, Nabat, no.2. Google Scholar

20.See, for example,‘The Red Flag carried through the streets’, The Daily Standard, 24March1919, p.5;Evans, Red Flag Riots, p.113ff. For intelligence reports, see NAA, A456, W26/241, in particular, G.F. Ainsworth, 26 March 1919. The most relevant passage is cited in John Ainsworth, ‘Captain George Ainsworth, Queensland’s Special Intelligence Bureau Chief, 1917-1919’, Royal Historical Society of Queensland Journal, vol.17, no.5, February2000, p.203. Google Scholar

21.Inattention in the construction or printing of a sentence has led to some opacity here: ‘…i my ego razbitye ostatki, ne beret[sic]na sebia nravstvennoi smelosti ne pravi’lno, oshibochno[sic]’. Google Scholar

22.One Big Union Propaganda League (OBUPL), the body which had taken the place of the banned Industrial Workers of the World; seeEvans, ‘Agitation’, p.149. Google Scholar

23.Omitted‘Bei be rabei![sic: ‘Beat them for all you’re worth!’], seemingly meaning that the Russian community were seen even by their allies as legitimate targets for violence. Google Scholar

24.President of the Industrial Council,William Wright. Google Scholar

25.Comrade Griffiths,Jennie Scott Griffiths, known as a determined opponent of conscription and theWar Precautions Act, is almost certainly the ‘member of the Peace League’ referred to earlier in the paragraph. On her role in lobbying for the release of the red flag prisoners, see National Library of Australia, Papers of Jennie Scott Griffiths, MS Acc08/58. Google Scholar

26.‘Substantial number’: according to other sources, there were only eight, and eight is the number subsequently given by the author; seeEvans, Red Flag Riots, pp.111-13. Google Scholar

27.The song is the famousVarshavianka, clearly a favourite of Zuzenko, who quotes it in his editorial in the same issue and finds inspiration in its lines. Google Scholar

29.‘National flag’(here and below). The original appears to signify the Australian flag, rather than the Union Jack. Other contemporary sources confirm that this flag is meant (eg,Evans, ‘Agitation’, p.151). Google Scholar

30.Australian government documents indicate that pistol shots were fi red at this point by Zuzenko. NAA, Intelligence report, 23March1919, A456/4, W26/241; seeEvans, ‘Agitation’, p.150. Google Scholar

31. Vidite, oni zhe i pravy!Pronoun use and punctuation give rise to some obscurity here.‘They’ may refer to ‘the local bourgeoisie and the militarists’. Google Scholar

34.The author appears to have relied on the Brisbane press, notably theCourier, for these figures. According to Evans (‘Agitation’, pp.152-53), the press and police reports greatly understated the injuries to policemen and returned soldiers alike. Google Scholar

35.Edward Theodore succeeded T.J. Ryan as Premier of Queensland in 1919. Google Scholar

37.‘Fallen in the name of the idea’. This phrase is a further echo of a line of theVarshavianka(seen. 27 above). Google Scholar

38. Tol’ko v bor’be obretesh’ ty pravo svoe!Originally a slogan of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, of which Bykoff had once been a member in Russia. The slogan appears elsewhere in his writing. Google Scholar

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Author details

Windle, Kevin