In memory of Doug Lorimer

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[These brief remarks were delivered at a memorial meeting for Doug Lorimer in Melbourne on October 25, 2013, organised by Socialist Alternative. The photo above was taken outside an Annandale polling booth in the 1975 federal election. It shows (from right): Joy Ecclestone, Dave Holmes, Doug Lorimer, (unidentified), Geoff Payne.]

The July 27 Green Left Weekly carried an obituary for Doug written by Pat Brewer. For comrades interested in the basic details of Doug's political CV I would recommend it.

I first met Doug in February 1971 in Adelaide. John Percy, myself and Dave Riley went over as a national investigating commission of the Socialist Youth Alliance. Two members of the local SYA branch were or had become Maoists and were causing us some political embarrassment. Doug Jordan was the branch organiser.

Doug Lorimer was not a member of SYA but as a serious young high school student he was around the organisation, clearly understood what was going on and supported our efforts. As we left town we urged Doug Jordan to join him up as a matter of urgency. This was done and Doug's career in socialist politics was launched.

We were often in different places but I worked with Doug on and off over many years as part of the Socialist Workers Party (Democratic Socialist Party) national office team in Sydney.

Socialism and Human Survival

Doug was a prolific and consistent writer and copious contributor to all manner of literary projects: his output included articles in Direct Action and Green Left Weekly, discussion pieces in internal bulletins, reports for national committee meetings and conferences, and educational talks at various national gatherings.

Doug played the key role in drafting two pioneering documents of the DSP.

The first was Socialism and Human Survival: For a Green, Democratic and Socialist World which was adopted by the 13th National Conference of the DSP in January 1990. (Ten years later it was given a major makeover by Dick Nichols and was published by Resistance Books as Environment, Capitalism and Socialism in 1999.)

The first edition focused on the looming threat of nuclear war along with the ever more alarming environmental crisis. I think this work was a very impressive achievement, drawing on such sources as Marx and Engels, Soviet specialists and the pioneer US socialist ecologist Barry Commoner.

The conclusion, restating the fundamental socialist message, resonates even more strongly today:

Only a worldwide, democratic socialist society will make it possible to develop the enormous productive potential of modern science and technology for the satisfaction of rational needs in conditions that assure the blossoming of the creative abilities of all individuals and all peoples without destroying the global ecological system upon which all life depends. The alternative is a society in which the enormous productive potential of modern science and technology, subordinated to the irrational imperatives of the capitalist private-profit system, assume ever more destructive forms in relation to both society and nature.

The alternatives facing humanity are, quite simply, socialism or extinction.

DSP program

The second document for which Doug was the primary drafter was the Program of the Democratic Socialist Party, first published in 1990. (A revised edition was published in 1994.) Obviously other comrades, especially our national secretary Jim Percy, had input into the original document but Doug did the basic spadework. I think the program remains a very important document, well worth reading today for its clear exposition of the socialist analysis and approach on a whole range of questions.

Resistance Books project

I collaborated with Doug for almost 10 years from 1997 when the Resistance Books project got under way. We had published books and pamphlets before but when we set up Resistance Books we put our efforts in this field on a much more systematic and ambitious basis.

Doug was a major contributor on various levels. Some basic statistics give the picture. Of our current range, Doug is the sole author of six items (four pamphlets and two books); he is a contributor to a further seven items; and 11 of our Resistance Marxist Library series of the classics carry introductions by Doug.

He didn't do them all but it was hard not to approach Doug for an introductory piece. He had the ideas and references at his fingertips and he generated polished output very quickly.

A model polemic

I would like to mention our pamphlet The Cuban Revolution and Its Leadership. It has long been a favourite of mine. It was written by Doug in 1999 at the request of Farooq Tariq, then the general secretary of the Labour Party of Pakistan. The LPP had just been expelled from the UK-based Committee for a Workers International (the parent organisation of the Socialist Party here in Melbourne). It subjects the views on Cuba of CWI leader Peter Taaffe to a powerful — and very convincing — critique. In my opinion, it is a model of serious Marxist argument on a topic often subject on the left to so much misinformation and mystification.

A criticism

I don't want to polemicise with Doug tonight but I do feel obliged to make one particular criticism of him: he should definitely have taken better care of himself! For all of us, our personal future is unpredictable whatever we do and all of us have to cope with a lot of stress. But Doug seemed especially unconcerned with the possible fallout from his lifestyle. When we were younger we joked about it but as you get older things get a bit more serious. Too much red meat, too many cigarettes, too little exercise and too few visits to the doctor or the dentist can actually lead to reducing your contribution to the socialist cause. Sadly, it all caught up with Doug in the end and his considerable talent was cut off prematurely.

Completely dedicated

As British socialist Phil Hearse put it in a message he sent to Australian comrades, 'Doug was a very particular guy'. He could be somewhat overwhelming up close when he was seized with the desire to explain some political point. But at bottom he was modest and unassuming and could readily enjoy a laugh. He lived very simply and hardly accumulated any material possessions. Doug was completely dedicated to the socialist cause — it really was his life.

Doug lives on through his writing

Well, Doug is gone. He put in an unremitting effort over his entire adult life — more than 40 years. Some of us were his comrades but the new generations will only know him through his writing. One can learn a lot from reading his various works. You may not agree with particular things but one can certainly benefit from engaging with him. [See Resistance Books.]