Victor Rabinowitz was the son of Jewish immigrants, born into a family where radical politics was common. His maternal grandfather was an anarchist and Yiddish-language author under the pseudonym Joseph Netter. Rabinowitz’s father was a successful manufacturer in the clothing industry who in 1944 established the Louis M. Rabinowitz foundation, and which supported projects in Jewish scholarship and culture and a variety of progressive causes. The Foundation was administered by Victor after his father’s death in 1957.
After receiving his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1934 and joining a law firm, Rabinowitz became involved in the work of the International Labor Defense, a Popular Front organization. He joined the National Lawyers Guild, a politically left professional organization, upon its founding in 1938, and the same year joined the progressive law firm of Louis Boudin. There he met Leonard Boudin, Louis’ nephew, who would become his law partner and close friend for the next fifty years. The firm’s practice centered upon labor law, which was to become a focal point of Victor’s legal work for the next two decades. His political views coincided with those of the Communist Party, of which he was to be a member from 1942-1960. In 1947, the law firm that eventually came to be known as Rabinowitz, Boudin (Leonard), Standard and Krinsky was formed. With the coming of the Cold War and its attendant anti-Communist legislation and government investigations, Rabinowitz’s practice increasingly involved defending unions accused of being led by Communists, notably the American Communications Association; individual Communists, including Steve Nelson; New York City public school teachers dismissed for refusing to answer questions about their political affiliations; and the Communist Party itself, as well as progressive union dissidents in such formerly radical unions as the National Maritime Union. He was active in the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, a left-wing offshoot of the American Civil Liberties Union. Rabinowitz was an activist in the American Labor Party in the 1940s; he was a candidate on the ALP ticket for County Court Judge of Kings County, NY (1942) and for Congress (1947).
Victor Rabinowitz’s post-1960 clients included the government of Cuba and the socialist government of Chile (1970-73) pursuing cases in U.S. courts, alleged Soviet spy Alger Hiss during the 1970s in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain documents relating to his case from the FBI, various labor unions and union rank-and-file activists, civil rights activists and individuals arrested while protesting the Vietnam War. He also defended his daughter Joni Rabinowitz on perjury charges connected with her work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and his son Peter J. Rabinowitz, a college professor allegedly transferred from Southwest College, a public junior college in Chicago, for his political activities. Rabinowitz also served two terms as president of the National Lawyers Guild, beginning in 1967, and was active in the Bill of Rights Foundation and the Fund for Education and Legal Defense. Other clients included the Freedom Socialist Party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Otto Nathan, executor of the estate of Albert Einstein. In 1996, Rabinowitz published an autobiography, Unrepentant Leftist: A Lawyer’s Memoir . He died at his home in New York City, at the age of 96, in November 2007.
- Rabinowitz, Victor.
Unrepentant Leftist: A Lawyer’s Memoir. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
From the guide to the Victor Rabinowitz Papers, Bulk, 1955-1980, 1918-2003, (Bulk 1955-1980), (Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives)