Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Victor Rabinowitz, 1911-2007

Since I started posting on the internet some dozen years ago, or so, I have been using the tag line "The rantings of an unrepentant old leftist."

In 2002, I received an email from iwrabbi another New York City netizen I was getting to know asking "Did you read my father's book?"

I didn't know who his father was, and I answered "no."

I became friends with The Rabbi, and learned that his father was the Rabinowitz partner in the law firm of Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman, P.C. I knew about the firm, because the Boudin was Leonard Boudin, father of Kathy Boudin, a member of the Weather Underground who was convicted in the early 1980s for her role in a Brinks armored car robbery and sentenced to 20-life.

But I didn't know about Victor Rabinowitz.

Victor Rabinowitz was a lawyer. A leftist. A father. A husband. An activist. He was many things. What connected me to him was that he was an author and he wrote a book titled "Unrepentent Leftist," which prompted his son to talk to me about being a leftist.

My only encounter with Victor was at his wife's memorial service, in 2005. Joann Grant was an activist, author, filmmaker, scholar and leftist in her own right. I watched Victor deliver a difficult eulogy. It is hard to eulogize those we love. His wife's memorial service was a remarkable event attended by many names from the Left, and some of them spoke.

My fondest memory of Victor that day was an exchange he had with publisher emeritus of The Nation magazine, Victor Navasky. The Nation is an important publication for those of us on the left, and New Yorkers have a particular attachment to the venerable institution. During Navasky's eulogy, he bragged that many people asked if he was 'Victor, Joann Grant's husband.' Everybody laughed politeley. When Victor Rabinowitz took the microphone, he turned to Navasky and bragged that many people asked if he was 'Victor, the publisher of The Nation.' Everyone laughed more heartily.

Victor Rabinowitz died on November 16, 2007. He was 96. He was an important American. He represented many people whose defense was unpopular. He took positions that were difficult to take at times that were hard for leftists.

His law firm represented Fidel Castro, Paul Robeson, Alger Hiss, Benjamin Spock, Daniel Ellsberg, Dashiell Hammett, the Church of Scientology, and Jimmy Hoffa. It has also represented the government of Chile under Salvador Allende, and the Cuban government since June 1960 and has been Cuba's only U.S. legal counsel in all U.S.-related matters. [He] was a prominent figure in the civil rights and liberties eras. He was one of the founders of the National Lawyers Guild in 1937 and . . . a member of the American Communist Party from 1942 until the early 1960s. He argued many cases before the United States Supreme Court. (see, Wikipedia entry)

My favorite story his that Victor became the lawyer for the Cuban government over a chess match with Che Guevara. Che was impressed by Victor. That's impressive.

In these days of right-wing populism, men like Victor Rabinowitz are hard to find, and I fear it could be many generations before another like him appears on the scene.

His death is a loss for all Americans.

The following obituaries have been published in the last weeks.

The Nation:
COUNSEL FOR THE LEFT: We note with great admiration the life of Victor Rabinowitz, champion of and lawyer to the left for nearly seven decades, who died at the age of 96 on November 16. His grandson, Michael Rabinowitz, who carries on in Victor's spirit as a political director at UNITE HERE, offered these words:

"My grandfather was someone who participated in a million (almost literally, it seems) good fights to make the world better--in organizations from the National Lawyers Guild to the American Labor Party in New York. He provided legal representation to unions from 1199 to the Teamsters, civil rights activists, the Black Panthers and left-wing governments like Salvador Allende's in Chile. Wherever there was a left, he was of it. While he knew the world was many shades of gray, he also knew there was a right and a wrong. And he relished taking a stand for right--even (perhaps especially) if it was unpopular. As I think about my grandfather, I will treasure the great personal memories--the baseball games, the free legal advice and the smile he'd form when he was about to make a particularly devastating argument. But what will live on, what he has passed on to me, is that it's not enough to believe the right rhetoric--you have to get your hands dirty. Victor was my moral and political compass, and that's something that will never die." Link.

The New York Times:
November 20, 2007
Victor Rabinowitz, 96, Leftist Lawyer, Dies
Victor Rabinowitz, a leftist lawyer whose causes and clients over nearly three-quarters of a century ranged from labor unions to Black Panthers to Cuba to Dashiell Hammett to Dr. Benjamin Spock to his own daughter, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 96.

His son Peter announced the death.

For much of his career, Mr. Rabinowitz teamed up with the lawyer Leonard B. Boudin, who died in 1989, to defend clients like Julian Bond, Daniel Ellsberg, Paul Robeson, the Rev. Philip Berrigan, Rockwell Kent and Alger Hiss. The pair did not take the espionage case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, only because they were already defending someone else accused of being a spy.

The two lawyers won the new revolutionary government of Cuba as a client over a poolside chess game with Che Guevara at Havana's Hotel Riviera in 1960, their law partner, Michael Krinsky, said in an interview yesterday. Guevara won, then gave them Cuba's business. . . . More

International Herald Tribune:
Victor Rabinowitz, lawyer of leftist causes whose clients included Alger Hiss and Castro, dies
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
NEW YORK: Victor Rabinowitz, a New York lawyer who represented leftist causes and whose clients included Alger Hiss, the Black Panthers and Fidel Castro, has died, his longtime law partner said. He was 96.

Rabinowitz died at his Manhattan home on Friday, Michael Krinsky, said Tuesday.

In a 1996 memoir, "Unrepentant Leftist," Rabinowitz said that he had been a member of the American Communist Party from 1942 — when the United States and the Soviet Union were wartime allies — until the early 1960s because it seemed the best way to fight for social justice.

Born in Brooklyn, Rabinowitz began his career at the firm of Louis Boudin, a top labor lawyer deeply involved in radical politics. In 1944, Rabinowitz opened his own labor law practice, and Boudin's nephew, Leonard Boudin, joined him three years later. . . . More

Huffington Post:
Remembering Victor Rabinowitz: Legal Giant of the Left
Marjorie Cohn
Posted November 26, 2007 | 10:27 AM (EST)
Victor handled several landmark cases. In 1950, he challenged the provision of the Taft-Hartley Act that prevented unions from representing workers unless all union officers swore a loyalty oath that they were not members of or affiliated with the Communist Party. He lost the case 5 to 4 in the Supreme Court. His work in the Supreme Court case of United States v. Yellin was instrumental in the demise of the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In 1964, in a 8 to 1 decision, the Supreme Court held in Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino that U.S. courts cannot review the legality of the Cuban nationalizations of U.S.-owned property under international law. Victor represented the government of Cuba in that case.

John Mage, prominent radical lawyer and Officer and Director of the Monthly Review Foundation, wrote a review of Victor's book, Unrepentant Leftist: A Lawyer's Memoir, for Monthly Review. Mage recalled his favorite Victor story: "In the Cuban bank litigation, Victor (representing the Cubans) was served with a discovery demand that he forwarded to the Cuban Finance Ministry, at that time headed by Che. Shortly afterwards he was in Havana for an anniversary celebration and was invited to accompany Guevara. Che directed Victor's attention to the confetti being thrown from an office tower and said 'remember that discovery demand? . . . There it is.'" More.

I highly recommend the article written by his son, Mark

The Rabbi Report
Victor Rabinowitz, 1911-2007

It's hard to eulogize those we love.

Dick Mac Recommends:

Unrepentant Leftist
Victor Rabinowitz

1 comment:

Rabbi said...

Thank you, my friend! Shall we get together, soon?