Kevin Windle

Nabat and its editors: the 1919 swansong
of the Brisbane Russian socialist press, or
Нас еще судьбы безвестные ждут

Australian Slavonic and East European Studies Vol. 21, Nos. 1–2 (2007): 143163.


The Russian community in Queensland, which assumed sizable proportions before and during World War I, entered the field of newspaper-publishing as early as 1912 when Fedor Sergeev (Artem) launched Ekho Avstralii (Echo of Australia) in Brisbane. That paper quickly folded but others soon took its place. Its first successor was Izvestiia Soiuza russkikh emigrantov (News of the Union of Russian Emigrants; 1913–16), and Rabochaia zhiznʹ (Workers’ Life) followed in 1916–17. All of these reflected the political views of their founder, a Bolshevik and close ally of Lenin, and his comrades in the Union of Russian Emigrants (later the Union of Russian Workers, URW), and all were therefore regarded as seditious publications. During World War I, Artem and his collaborators, such as Petr Utkin and Petr Simonov (later the Bolshevik consul), maintained an anti-conscription line and opposed the ‘imperialist’ war. Their newspapers were tolerated for some time, as mildly irritating parasites on the host body politic, but reserves of tolerance proved to be limited when ‘disloyalty’ was scented and patriotic feeling ran high.

Australian antagonism towards the Russian community and its activists increased as hostilities wore on and Russia, under its new rulers, defected from the Triple Entente. The URW, its factions and the breakaway ‘Group of Russian Workers’, all of which welcomed that development, differed little in their fundamental orientation. All opposed the government’s wartime legislation (the War Precautions Act), the focus of the Red Flag demonstration on 23 March 1919, which led to determined repressive moves and the deportation of the leaders.1 That demonstration, its aftermath, and its Russian standard-bearers are central to the account below.

The story of the Brisbane ‘troubles’ has been thoroughly explored by Raymond Evans, while Artem, who had returned to his homeland before those events and perished in an accident in 1921, was the subject of a quantity of admiring fiction and non-fiction in Soviet Russia. The present paper will not review that literature, but by way of background it is perhaps useful to recall that at the period the Russian presence in Queensland was highly visible and Russian immigration to the state had been the subject of official correspondence as early as 1913. Most of the immigrants came from eastern Russia, some, like Artem, having escaped from prisons in Siberia. Not all were equipped with passports. Official concern over this matter is reflected in correspondence between the Queensland Police Department and the Federal Office of Customs and Excise well before the outbreak of war.2 The men worked at a variety of manual occupations, sometimes of a seasonal nature, in cane fields, gold and copper mines, abattoirs, railway workshops, as navvies on railway construction sites and on the waterfront in Brisbane and other ports. Many were drawn to anarchist or socialist thought and a majority, it seems, welcomed the overthrow of the old regime in 1917. By 1919 concern over their numbers and their loyalty was sufficient for a special file to be created by the Criminal Investigation Branch for Acting Premier Theodore,3 and the contents of their newspapers were a cause of disquiet to both the state and federal governments. Since many of the Russians had only a rudimentary command of English, the Russian newspapers published in Brisbane played an important role in the community.

The Brisbane Russian newspapers of that period are today hard to find in any public collections, and some appear to have been completely lost. While Ekho Avstralii, Izvestiia Soiuza russkikh emigrantov and Rabochaia zhiznʹ, in incomplete sets, are held in Moscow museums and libraries, Znanie i edinenie (Knowledge and Unity), which was published throughout 1918 at roughly fortnightly intervals, seems not to have survived. Partial insights, at best, into its contents may be obtained from the military censor’s notes held in the National Archives of Australia (NAA).4 Its English-language successor, Knowledge and Unity, may be found in the National Library of Australia from its first English issue of December 1918, but other papers which were published at the time are known today only by their titles, the issues themselves nowhere to be found. The illegal Deviatyi val (Ninth Wave; four issues, December 1918 – February 1919) has not yet been located in any library or archive, and Nabat (The Tocsin), the subject of the present study, is almost as elusive.

These newspapers are of interest firstly because they reflect the views of an active and disaffected ethnic community on which much attention was focused in 1917–1922, owing to its prominence in the unrest in Brisbane, against the background of an unstable world situation, to which Australia was not immune. Secondly, they reveal much about the thinking of one of the leading activists and journalists involved in their production, who would go on to achieve a certain renown in other areas in the USSR, Aleksandr Mikhailovich Zuzenko. This brief study examines the only known issue of one such newspaper and attempts to set it in the context of its time, while surveying its contents and tentatively identifying the anonymous editors and main contributors. This means that Zuzenko, one of the most colourful figures in a colourful community, will feature prominently in the pages which follow. The raw material for this study is a single copy of the first and possibly last issue, dated 6 August 1919. The records of the Ipswich Russian Communist group contain tantalizing references to Nabat at later dates, but may in fact refer to the same issue.5

While not all Russians in Australia subscribed to the Bolshevik world-view, the leaders of the URW made plain their organization’s support for the revolutionary cause and their wish to see the revolution take hold in Australia, whence it would march on to claim the whole of the British Empire. Aleksandr Zuzenko (1841–938, in Australia from 1911), a sailor, pugilist and one-time anarchist, must be counted among the most energetic of these leaders and the most determined publishers of newspapers. After Artem’s departure for Russia in early 1917, there were few in the Russian community who could match Zuzenko’s drive and tireless activism. His articles appeared in Rabochaia zhiznʹ, Znanie i edinenie (of which he became editor in 1918 when he was also secretary of the URW), and Deviatyi val, which he launched and edited for two months from December 1918 until its last issue in February 1919.6 He would show his leadership a few weeks later, in the Red Flag demonstration, and be deported for it to the land of his birth. After a period of Comintern service, which included a return mission to Australia, he again became a practising journalist in Moscow (1923–24, after which he returned to the sea as captain of various merchant vessels). His remarkable life story, parts of which feature in the work of a number of Soviet writers, was prematurely concluded when he was arrested as a ‘British spy’ and executed at the height of Stalin’s purges, in 1938.7

In the brief life of Nabat the other figure of central importance is Herman Bykov (Aleksei Rezanov; 1891– [date of death unknown]), another sailor by trade, who was well to the fore as an organizer and agitator in Brisbane, having arrived later than Zuzenko, in 1916. The biographical facts are only partly known: he was born in Saratov in 1891; for his early activism as a Left Socialist Revolutionary he had served seven years in Tsarist prisons, but by the time of the Brisbane disturbances proclaimed himself a Bolshevik and a Maximalist.8 At the time of the ‘Bolshevik trouble’ in Brisbane, he had been planning a new Russian paper, Fakel (The Torch), and hoped – in vain – to get official permission for it.9 With Zuzenko he marched at the head of the Red Flag procession and was arrested shortly thereafter, but unlike Zuzenko, who was swiftly deported without trial, he and some others were tried and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, to be followed by deportation. Though described in the Daily Standard as a ‘short, delicate Russian’,10 he proved irrepressible in Brisbane’s Boggo Road Gaol and continued to agitate successfully from his cell. In flyers that circulated in Brisbane, and in articles which appeared – with some delay – in Knowledge and Unity, he proudly gave his address as ‘HM Prison, Brisbane’. After deportation, it is known that he served in the Communist Party apparatus in Chita (Siberia) in the early ’twenties, and in the early ’thirties held an academic post in Leningrad, where he was the author of a series of short studies in the history of communism.

Zuzenko and Bykov were both men of some education and both possessed the literary skills required to convey their message effectively to the readers of their newspapers and to win converts. Their adversaries, the intelligence officers of the First Military District (Queensland), fully recognized the oratorical flair of Zuzenko, in particular. Captain Jeremiah Joseph Stable, the censor, described him as ‘a fine article writer’,11 and Stable, in civilian life a lecturer in languages and literature at Queensland University, could recognize a gifted writer when he saw one.12 Zuzenko had a rare talent for emotive rhetoric, backed by wide reading. He was capable of uniquely pungent invective, as well as pathos and sentiment when the occasion required.

Bykov, like Zuzenko, was steeped in the lore of Russian radicalism, but his writing was in some ways more sophisticated, and marked by an impressive range of literary references and quotations, from Milton and Voltaire to Tolstoi, with influences of Pushkin, Griboedov and Kozʹma Prutkov, popular song and the poetry of Aleksei Apukhtin. When it suited him, he could expound on religious themes, drawing on a detailed knowledge of the Bible, and his gift for pointed satirical writing and inventive comedy is well displayed in his unpublished play O tom, kak my uchimsia samoupravleniiu i kontroliu, in which he pokes fun at his comrades in the URW, especially Zuzenko.13 Yet at times his prolific journalism (for example, his articles for Fakel and Knowledge and Unity) seems prolix, gropes uneasily for a clear focus, and lacks the verve and venom of Zuzenko. The translator who summarized Bykov’s article ‘Svoboda mysli i revoliutsiia’ (‘Free Thought and Revolution’) for the military authorities had difficulty with both the thinking and the handwriting, and commented ‘it is very indistinctly written’.14

After Zuzenko was banned from speaking in public and publishing newspapers (late 1918), printing of his new paper Deviatyi val took place, according to Maria Nesterenko (Nestor), née Stepanova, in the attic of the Stepanov residence: ‘That paper … was set by hand in difficult conditions. It was all done in the greatest secrecy.’15 A gathering at this address on 27 July 1919, monitored by the security services, may have been connected to the production of Nabat, though this inference is not drawn in the related correspondence.16 Zuzenko could not have attended, of course, as he had been deported three months earlier.

A surviving copy of Nabat, 6 August 1919, is held in the NAA Brisbane Office, having been seized during searches by the security authorities with drafts of various articles by Bykov. On 22 August 1919 a memorandum from the censor to the Intelligence Officer at Headquarters, First Military District, about this and other documents included an ‘interpreter’s summary’ of those written in Russian.17 The summary of Nabat is brief and selective, covering only the shorter items on the last page and saying nothing at all about the leading articles or longer reports. No attempt is made to identify the writers, other than to say that the paper is ‘under communistic editorship’.18

If the censor’s report is less than complete, however, so is the archive copy of the newspaper. It has only four pages, and one article is said to be ‘continued on page 5’. Its poor technical quality reflects the circumstances in which it was produced. A high density of misprints, by which words are sometimes rendered unrecognizable, conspires with often flawed Russian grammar, syntax and spelling to confound the most determined reader. In places entire lines, if not more, appear to have been lost, and the condition of the copy is such that not all the text is fully legible. Its imperfections no doubt reflect the conditions of its clandestine production. Its unfinished appearance, coupled with the fact that it was in Bykov’s possession, suggests that it is a proof copy and that Bykov, who may have been the editor-in-chief, intended to make corrections.

The newspaper’s masthead provides minimal information apart from the date, stating only that it is edited by the Group of Communists, Brisbane. Whether this ‘Group’ is synonymous with the URW (referred to more than once by this name in the paper) or some new organization is not clear.19 The form of words – Group of Communists – appears to differentiate it from the ‘Group of Russian Workers’, but these names were notoriously elastic, partly because they co-existed with parallel, and equally elastic, translated forms. The Group of Russian Workers had been founded early in 1918, following disagreements within the URW. Bykov had been a leading figure in it, but by March 1919 it had declined and Bykov himself had gravitated back towards the URW, though remaining at odds with Zuzenko, whose ‘dictatorial’ tendencies he distrusted and whose history of anarchism he deplored.20 As late as March 1919 Bykov attacked ‘a local Bakuninist’ and ‘anarchists like our Mamins’ in the flyer ‘Za sovety ili protiv sovetov’.21 Yet, despite some tension in their relations, the two set aside their differences sufficiently to share leading roles in the demonstration against the War Precautions Act.

That Nabat was illegal is made explicit by the use of this word [nelegalʹnyi] in the first paragraph of the editorial, and of ‘underground’ [podpolʹnaia] later. Perhaps because it was illegal, none of the reporters and columnists uses an identifiable name. Articles are either unsigned or signed ‘A Russian Worker’, ‘The Red Demon’ or ‘The Red Hedgehog’. Despite this anonymity, authorship of some pieces may be surmised from internal evidence and the overall editorship from more circumstantial evidence.

The material in this issue is far from being up to the minute. In fact this is a newspaper with little news in the accepted sense of the term, and no team of correspondents would have been needed to produce the material in it. Rather, it exhibits an understandable preoccupation with the events of over four months earlier, the Red Flag demonstration and its consequences. These had not been covered in the URW’s press because publication of Knowledge and Unity had been suspended for four months, its editors, Zuzenko and his wife Civa (Cecilia), having been deported in the aftermath of 23 March. The demonstration, the street clashes, and the arrests and imprisonment which followed, had clearly traumatized the participants. Much of the material in the pages of this newspaper certainly originated at a date much closer to the principal ‘news’ story in it, when the wounds were fresh, than to the publication date of 6 August.


Below follows a summary of the articles and reports in the newspaper, with an attempt, where possible, to identify the writers.

The leading article on p. 1 (two columns), by ‘a Russian worker’, under the headline ‘Devyatyi val’ [The Ninth Wave], acknowledges that the URW has suffered a serious setback, if not a rout [razgrom], from which it can recover only with great determination and courage. But recover it must, and the author is confident that the revolutionary movement cannot be held back for long. The mood is sombre and the prose has a certain poetic grandeur, taking its cue from the lines of the song which serves as its epigraph, the Varshavianka. Вихри враждебные веют над нами,
Темные силы нас тяжко гнетут.
В бой роковой мы вступаем с врагами,
Нас еще судьбы безвестные ждут.
(Hostile whirlwinds swirl above us / and the forces of darkness weigh heavily upon us. / We enter into fateful battle with the foe. / Unknown fates await us.)22

The writer develops an extended image, adumbrated in the headline and reinforced in the epigraph, of stormy seas, towering waves and the shipwreck of a small group of brave Russian workers doing their best to weather the Australian storm. In spite of everything, they must ‘carry forward the heavy burden of the moral rebirth of mankind … Mankind is on the brink of a shift from a civilization of social slavery, of economic oppression, of exploitation of man by man, to one of economic and spiritual emancipation, from a culture of fratricidal hatred, of distortion of thought and deed, of prostitution of the spirit, to one of Socialism – of fraternity, equality and liberty.’

The writer appeals to readers to continue the work of Devyatyi val, that is, of the defunct illegal newspaper, and continues: ‘We summon you, comrades, to revolutionary work for the world social revolution’ (col. 1). A handful of Russian workers have taken on ‘the jackals of British militarism’, and suffered a defeat, but they are still alive, and so ‘the revolution lives on with us’. The ‘old song’, the Varshavianka, quoted again in conclusion, enjoins them to fight ‘for a better world and for freedom’.

As for its authorship, the Varshavianka itself helps to narrow the field by forming a direct link with the demonstration of 23 March. A report on the procession (p. 2, col. 4) tells us that when Zuzenko and Bykov unfurled their banners, the front ranks, with these two at the head, struck up this same song – a fact which again suggests that one or other of them is likely to be the author.23 Further indications point to Zuzenko rather than Bykov.

The text of the article contains a number of clear pointers. As noted, the title of this editorial, ‘Deviatyi val’, popularized in a seascape by Ivan Aivazovsky and widely used at the period, refers to the earlier newspaper, edited by Zuzenko, which bore this name.24 Nabat is spoken of as the direct descendant of the earlier paper; in fact another item announces (p. 4, col. 1) that a speech by Lenin, the beginning of which appeared in Deviatyi val, will soon be concluded in Nabat. Readers are urged to ‘continue the cause of Deviatyi val, the spirit of destruction, the spirit of creation…’ [dukh razrushaiushchii, dukh sozidaiushchii] (p. 1, col. 1). This last phrase – not one that was on everybody’s lips – was clearly a favourite of Zuzenko’s. It reappears eighteen months later, for example, in an article in the New York Novoe russkoe slovo by A. Matulichenko (Zuzenko).25 Bykov in his parodic play calls Zuzenko ‘the Great Destroyer’, and has him appear in the role of ‘the Creatively Destructive Spirit’, proclaiming, ‘Long live Sania Mamin’s spirit of destruction! Destruction is creation; creation is the work of destruction.’ Over forty years later Konstantin Paustovsky, remembering his friend Zuzenko at Lenin’s lying in state, quotes him saying of Lenin: ‘he was a superb destroyer of every kind of filth, and a superb creator’.26 Within its genre, this is a well-crafted article, written in stirring, often poetic prose, displaying the orotund pathos at which Zuzenko excelled. Besides bearing the hallmarks of Zuzenko’s editorializing, which are known from Knowledge and Unity and numerous other writings, it is signed ‘A Russian worker’ [rossiiskii rabochii], a title which Zuzenko proudly appended to his pseudonym in at least one other publication.27

The article contrasts the attitudes and behaviour of Russian workers and Australian workers: the latter, the author feels, show no commitment to the struggle. Their ‘inactivity’ is ‘criminal’, and the social environment is characterized as ‘public dim-wittedness’ [obschchestvennoe tupoumie]. This is a view expressed elsewhere by Zuzenko, in very similar terms.28 Zuzenko is, to be sure, not alone in voicing this opinion – on this, at least, Zuzenko and Bykov were at one – so this fact does not afford conclusive evidence of authorship.

The leading article is followed (pp. 1–2) by a second – apparently editorial – article headed ‘To our Comrades’ [K tovarishcham] (almost three columns), with no signature. It hails the revolution in Russia and the achievement of the working class, with no reference, this time, to Australia. The Russian worker, it says, instinctively understands that true liberty, equality and fraternity can be achieved only by the Bolshevik path, by the complete destruction of the existing system and a final break with all existing traditions. This article has much in common with the foregoing one in theme and exposition alike. It reaffirms that capitalist exploitation and private property must be destroyed. It rails against certain ‘gradualist’ intellectuals and ‘spiritual cripples’ who offer a shameful alternative programme of parliamentary reform: they have parted company with the workers and ‘true socialism’. Russian workers, whose view the writer purports to represent, have turned their backs on the teachings of ‘those spiritual con-men the clerics, the political mutilators of the human conscience’ and embraced the ‘religion of revolt’. They reject constitutions, reform, legislation, judicial prostitution, ‘scientific suppuration’ [nauchnaia nagnoennostʹ] and all that gadostʹ! The revolution threatens only ‘the stinking accumulation of social stupidity’. Ahead lies a world in which can be seen ‘the beautiful outlines of free brotherhood. Only a madman or an under-developed intellect [nedomysel] will shed a tear for the past, not a person of firm convictions, in the struggle for that beautiful life.’

There are clear indications that the first and second leading articles are by the same hand, and much to suggest that that hand is Zuzenko’s, starting with the emphasis on the Russian worker [rossiiskii rabochii]. Both articles show marked similarities to others known to have issued from Zuzenko’s pen: when the writer attacks the ‘spiritual beggars and cripples’29 who have lost sight of the workers’ real interests, he singles out for special derision: ‘our … Plekhanovs, Tseretelis, Kerenskys, and old women [Starushki]’. Zuzenko’s article in the New York Worker contains almost the same list in a very similar statement: ‘ “Babushka” Breshkovskaya or Spiridonova, Plechanoff or the Social Revolutionary Party or Mensheviki, the workers will cast them aside – have cast them aside.’30

While the colourful rhetoric, the phrasing and the anti-religious tenor are strongly reminiscent of Zuzenko’s writing elsewhere, there is one line which could hardly have been written by anybody else. This comes when the writer directs a barb squarely at Bykov, who six months before in the play ‘O tom…’ had mocked Zuzenko’s anarchism and ‘Makhaevism’ [Makhaevshchina]. Here the author indignantly claims that when the workers upheld the principles of equality, ‘People with a particular cast of mind … treacherously exclaimed: anarchy! Makhaevism is threatening civilization.’31 It seems that here Zuzenko, who did not believe in letting bygones be bygones, felt it essential to correct erroneous or unfavourable perceptions of his position.

The remaining three columns of p. 2 are occupied by an article headed ‘Razgrom Soiuza R. R. Krasnaia demonstratsiia i okhota za Bolʹshevikami’, a detailed account of the demonstration of 23 March 1919, which seems, however, to be incomplete. It breaks off at the page-end with the words ‘I tak do samago Kvinstrita’ (and thus they continued all the way to Queen Street), which was far from the end of the route, or of the demonstration.32 The report of the demonstration proper – headed ‘Protsessiia’ – is preceded by what might be termed a prelude, one column in length, providing some background and describing the mood of the Queensland Russian community since the October revolution, and the desire of Russian workers to raise their revolutionary consciousness and play their full part in the social processes in train in Australia. The URW is now in ruins as a result of taking the lead. The Russians have borne the brunt of the forces of reaction, and it is hinted that allied organizations like the Brisbane Industrial Council, the Socialist League and the One Big Union Propaganda League did less than they might have done.

The narrative begins only after this statement of position. It is of interest because most accounts of the events in Brisbane on 23 March 1919 convey either the view of local press correspondents or of the Queensland police and military intelligence. Detailed first-hand accounts by Russian participants are rare, and some accounts by Russians who were not present are grossly inaccurate.33 Nabat’s account does not contradict the English-language accounts; rather, it adds detail to them, and leaves no doubt that the writer played a vital part in the event, marching at the head of the 300-strong column, whence he could report which Russian songs were sung (Col. 4), for example. The perspective adopted is entirely Russian. Australian onlookers, says the writer, with their ‘stale, phlegmatic souls’ (contrasted with the sensitive Russian soul), must have found it strange to see this Russian independence of spirit (Col. 3). The only participants named are Zuzenko and Bykov, of the Russians, and of the Australians only ‘Comrade Griffiths’ (Jennie Scott Griffiths), who was anxious to protect children and young marchers.

Unlike the two editorials, this article has nothing to mark it as the work of Zuzenko, whose actions are related in a convincing third person. While no definite conclusion may be reached regarding authorship, there are clear similarities with certain of Bykov’s writings, and we know that Bykov was with Zuzenko at the head of the marching column. It is worth noting that the introductory section of this article speaks of the ‘Russian worker’s sensitive soul, striving to educate itself’. Bykov in ‘Rusʹ avstraliiskaia’ makes the same point in very similar terms: ‘The [Russian] worker, having no guidance, timidly and uncertainly, but lovingly, sets about developing and educating himself.’

Both the Nabat article and ‘Rusʹ avstraliiskaia’ speak of ‘revolutionary-minded workers’, that is, Russian workers, their growing solidarity and determination to rouse the dormant Australians. The motif of waking from sleep occurs in another manuscript by Bykov, ‘Na sviashchennye motivy’.34 Coincidences of outlook and phrasing such as these strongly suggest that the anonymous author of ‘Razgrom Soiuza …’ is the same as the author of ‘Rusʹ Avstraliiskaia’, that is, Herman Bykov.

Page 3 is entirely taken up with ‘Krasnyi obzor sobytii po gazetam belykh’ [Red Survey of Events as Reported in the White Press], over the by-line ‘Krasnyi chertenok’ [Red Demon]. The survey takes the form of brief notes on world events, with special reference to strikes and demonstrations in capitalist countries and the progress of the Red-White struggle on the Civil War fronts in Russia and neighbouring territories. It chronicles Bolshevik successes, or, where the Reds are faring less well, anticipates coming successes, for example, in Siberia. The international implications of these also receive emphasis, for example: ‘Victory for the Reds in Siberia will spell the end of Japanese imperialism and the beginning of the Soviet Revolution in China and Korea’ (Col. 3). The ‘White’ newspapers from which the reports are supposedly drawn, are not named until late in the piece, where it is stated that ‘the details are taken from Dalekoe Obozrenie’, a title which is cited again in an ‘appendix’ to the ‘Red Survey’ (Col. 4). ‘Dalekoe Obozrenie’ is a most improbable title, indeed an unlikely collocation, and it may be that the writer meant Dalekaia okraina, a paper published in the Russian Far East in 1918–19.35 There are no obvious clues or individualizing features in the text by which to identify ‘the Red Demon’, but the use of Vladivostok newspapers forms a link with the contents of a letter from Bykov to Peter Timms (see below and Note 39).

‘Krasnaia pochta’ [Red Mailbag], on page 4, is a round-up of recent news, though hardly up to the minute: Knowledge and Unity No. 32 has been published (it appeared on 26 July; there had been no issue since 29 March, the week after the demonstration); the Red Flag prisoners have been released from Boggo Road: Bykov-Rezanov, Lichman, Tolstobrov, L. Roslan, M. Ostapenko, and all the ‘Englishmen’; but in Sydney the following are still being held: K. Kliushin, P. Kreslin, Vainberg (Weinberg), M. Vishnevsky (Wischnevsky), Rosenberg (i.e. Michael, Zuzenko’s father-in-law), P. Tims (Timms).

The same section includes details of hunger-strikes and protests by the prisoners, led by Bykov, in Boggo Road, (Col. 2), and by others in Melbourne. ‘The Russian comrades maintained their hunger-strike for four days (Rezanov for four and a half) and the British [angliki] for two days.’ They achieved recognition as political prisoners, successfully Bolshevized the prison, and ‘Rezanov flooded it with [Bolshevik] literature’.

In view of the wealth of first-hand detail, it is more than probable that the author is Bykov, among whose proudest achievements were the concessions wrung from the prison authorities. In the reporting of the hunger-strike there is a note of scorn for the less steadfast demeanour of the local comrades, who so badly needed the Russian example. The writer urges readers to continue the struggle in prison, should the need arise, bearing in mind the example of the Red Flag prisoners. All of this is consistent with Bykov’s views and his other writings. The other Russians in Boggo Road are not known to have left any record, or to have contributed to any newspaper. Zuzenko can safely be ruled out: he was not held in Boggo Road and could not at this date (6 August) have received detailed information from those who were.

‘Vazhnaia novostʹ’ [Important News] (despite its title – singular in the original – this is not a single news item but a miscellany of disparate items) reports news of comrades and ex-comrades such as Pavel Iordan (Paul Jordan) and Petr Utkin. [Boris] Taranov-Skvirsky, ‘a scab, saboteur and agent of the “Uchredilka” (Constituent Assembly)’, is now back in Australia, in Port Darwin.36 Word has come of the machinations of Anatoly Mendrin and Leo Berk, two Russian agents provocateurs in the pay of the Australian government.37 Readers are urged to maintain their agitation among non-Russian workers, prevent loading of Japanese ships, and do all they can to assist Soviet Russia in the struggle against the Whites in Siberia.

The by-line Krasnyi ezhik [Red Hedgehog] appears at the end of this section but may possibly be intended to apply to the preceding one ‘Krasnaia pochta’ as well. In any event they appear to be the work of the same author, and in all probability that author is Bykov. ‘Krasnaia pochta’, as shown above, describes the Boggo Road hunger-strike and Bykov’s role in it, giving details best known to Bykov himself. The writer uses the uncommon non-standard form angliki four times in preference to anglichane, which appears once. The fact that the writer of ‘Vazhnaia novostʹ’ also uses angliki (twice), and that other phrases are repeated from one report to the next suggests that the author is the same.

Parts of the content of both reports duplicate a letter of the same date (6 August 1919) from ‘the Soviet’ to Peter Kriulin in Cairns, intercepted by Military Intelligence.38 The latter is one of a small number of documents signed ‘Soviet’. H. E. Jones’s ‘Summary of Communism’, which is not always fully reliable, names the author of the Soviet’s letter as G. Tokarev.39 The reasons for this attribution are not clear but may derive from the fact that at later dates (after Bykov was rearrested in August), Tokarev did regularly sign – by name – for the Soviet.40 As support for the attribution, however, this is less compelling than the obvious similarities between the letter and the reports in Nabat, which point clearly to Bykov. At least one other document with the same signature ‘Soviet’ is undoubtedly by Bykov: the flyer ‘Za sovety ili protiv sovetov’, which contains identical phrases to those in ‘Rusʹ avstraliiskaia’, signed Rezanov (Bykov).41 Further support for Bykov’s authorship is provided by another letter, written in the same week as the ‘Soviet’ letter and the first issue of Nabat, to Peter Timms in Darlinghurst Detention Barracks, signed Rezanov. The censor’s notes on this letter show that its contents (mention of Mendrin, Utkin, ‘Taranofsky’, Vladivostok newspapers, political prisoners in Brisbane, the November anniversary meeting) overlap at so many points with the Nabat material that Bykov must appear the most likely ‘Red Hedgehog’, ‘Red Demon’, and author of the letter to Kriulin.42

‘Arest i sud nad tovarishchami’ [Arrest and Trial of Comrades] (p. 4), an unsigned contribution, deals in a column and a half with the arrests that followed the March riots. Judging by the reporting of events, it was written soon after the trials, that is, in April, three months before the ‘Red Mailbag’. The first paragraph gives an account of the arrest of Zuzenko on Thursday 27 March at his home in Hope Street, South Brisbane, an event witnessed, it is reported, only by his wife. Days later he was taken under reinforced guard to Sydney. Eight men are named as having been arrested by the federal authorities (i.e. the military): Zuzenko, Vishnevsky, Kreslin, Rosenberg, Klushin, Markin, Weinberg, and in Sydney Comrade Timms, and one whose name is unknown. Six-month sentences by the civil authorities are reported for eight English comrades and Rezanov, Tolstobrov, Lichman, Ostapenko and Roslan. Rezanov is praised for upholding the best Russian revolutionary traditions, and ‘we are all grateful to him.’ He refused any part in the ‘rituals of religious and legal hypocrisy’, declared himself a ‘prisoner-of-war in the clutches of capitalism’, made a powerful speech and turned the court into a Bolshevik tribune. Tolstobrov was also an inspiration to the English comrades. If the Australian workers are now stirring it is thanks to the URW. ‘We pay tribute to these comrades’ [Chestʹ vam, tovarishchi!].

The content, in particular the tributes to the Red Flag prisoners and the gratitude to Bykov, rule out Bykov and Zuzenko as authors, along with the other participants. Clearly the writer is a like-minded comrade who has escaped arrest or did not take part in the demonstration. While no individual can be confidently nominated, Zuzenko’s old comrade Nikolai Lagutin must be a prime suspect: he had experience of editing Znanie i edinenie, was still involved in radical journalism, and the documents seized from him clearly show that he was interested in maintaining publication of Russian newspapers in early 1919.43 Moreover, the Commandant of the First Military District reported that Lagutin was present at the meeting on 27 July at the Stepanov residence (see above) and that he had been appointed ‘Travelling Organizer’ for the Queensland sub-branches of the ‘Souse’.44


Of the six contributions to the newspaper it is posited, then, that two are by Zuzenko, two or possibly three by Bykov, and one may be attributable to Lagutin. Editorial responsibility, it may fairly be supposed, rested with Zuzenko and Bykov, and this seems to be borne out by the absence of subsequent issues. The deportation of these two key figures spelled the end of the venture almost as soon as it had begun.

The fact that a copy of Nabat is located in an archive folder devoted mostly to Bykov, and that most of the surrounding documents are by or about Bykov suggests that Bykov had an important role, but the evidence also demonstrates that Zuzenko was deeply involved. This may seem an unlikely conclusion, given that by 6 August Zuzenko was in an Egyptian prison, en route for Odessa, but the content and nature of the two articles in question, in particular the assumptions made about the readers’ knowledge of the demonstration and riots, are such that they could only have been written in late March or April, while those events were fresh in the readers’ minds. At that time Zuzenko was still in Australia, and the articles bear the clear stamp of his authorship.

The indications are that this first issue took several months of preparation, interrupted by arrests and searches, and that Zuzenko and Bykov managed to collaborate after a fashion, despite their differences, as they had in the Red Flag procession. In the editor’s prefatory notes to the article by ‘Nargin’ in the New York Worker (see above), it is stated that he was ‘editor of Ninth Wave and Nabat in Odessa at the beginning of 1919’.45 The Worker could plausibly have added ‘and Nabat in Brisbane’, but at this point ‘Nargin’, making his clandestine way to Australia, did not wish to draw attention to any Australian connection. In the unlikely event that The Worker had come to the notice of the Commonwealth Police, ‘Brisbane’ and Ninth Wave would have unmasked ‘Nargin’ at once. As for his being the ‘editor’ of the Brisbane Nabat, the dates preclude his ‘editing’ in the sense of preparing the contents, but not the planning or the writing of editorial articles, and the editorialist writes as one fully engaged in the organizational process. It is known that Zuzenko always relished the challenges of conspiracy and illegal newspapers for their own sake. Sergeant Short reported him writing in Deviatyi val that if he was jailed others would ‘publish copy after copy’, and Bykov in his satire makes Zuzenko say that if the URW is suppressed he will ‘start a new, illegal Soiuz’.46 But what Bykov mocked as empty bravado was from Zuzenko a serious and determined statement of intent.

Zuzenko, who wrote fast, could have written his articles in the few days between the demonstration and his arrest (27 March), or while in custody awaiting deportation, and secreted them for his co-editor, knowing that his days in Australia were numbered.47 Bykov, when temporarily released, would have assembled the contributions, including his own, and arranged printing.

As far as is known, this Nabat represents not so much an alarm-bell as the death-knell of the socialist Russian press in Australia, the last of several brave attempts in the face of great adversity to propagate ideas which were not, as the editors hoped, gaining ground in the wider host community. From this time on, agitation would be in the majority language. Knowledge and Unity was revived, but only in English. The Communist (under various titles) likewise appeared in English only, despite Simonov’s contributions and some organizational input in 1922 by Zuzenko on his return visit. The Russian-language newspapers which appeared in Australia later would be the property of a very different émigré community, espousing a quite different set of political principles from the URW.

In September the Australian sojourn of Nabat’s presumed production editor reached its end. A week after publication Bykov was re-arrested (13 August) in Brisbane and taken by mail-train, escorted by two armed NCOs, to Victoria Barracks in Sydney to await deportation. The SS Frankfurt sailed on 19 September with him and a dozen of his comrades on board. Unlike Zuzenko, he would not return.

Bykov’s thumb-prints, and a fine set of Zuzenko’s fingerprints (all fingers, both hands), were retained by the security authorities and may today be viewed in the National Archives of Australia.48 No fingerprints are needed, however, to establish the deportees’ connection with Nabat. For this the imprint of their statements, prose style and characteristic phrases will suffice. If in future another copy of this issue should come to light, with the missing pages in place, it may be possible to confirm the above hypotheses regarding authorship of individual pieces, and confirm that the four extant pages represent the work of only three writers.