As a recent post on Metafilter points out, the well-known children’s author and sometime New Yorker cartoonist Syd Hoff had a radical alter ego, a Mr. Redfield who drew cartoons for the Daily Worker. Philip Nel has written about Hoff’s radicalism here and here; apparently, despite being a real-live Stalinist through and through—i.e., ticked at those who bailed on the party after the Hitler-Stalin pact—and a high-profile children’s author, Hoff never got blacklisted.

And his cartoons collected in The Ruling Clawss have a certain topical bite as critiques of what we’re now to call the one percent.

I came across Hoff in my own research because he illustrated a pamphlet supporting Bretton Woods titled Bretton Woods is No Mystery published by Pamphlet Press in 1945. The pamphlet’s author, Joseph Gaer, was a UC Berkeley lecturer who wrote extensively about religion, labor, and Western authors (including Bret Harte and Ambrose Bierce). At the time he wrote the pamphlet, Gaer was director of the CIO PAC; shortly before that he had been an assistant secretary of the Treasury and before that worked for the Farm Security Administration and the Federal Writers’ Project. He was also founder of Pamphlet Press, which (the back cover explains) worked “to find the area of agreement among all the progressive groups of our nation and unite them on the issues of their common concern”.

At the time of the pamphlet’s publication, the Treasury had embarked on a campaign to persuade Americans across the political spectrum to support the Bretton Woods Agreements and their adoption by Congress. Opposition came from the American Bankers Association and Senator Robert Taft (depicted by Hoff below).

So a Democratic administration put forward an international banking bill, and met well-funded opposition from the main banking trade group, opposition that persuaded the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and much of the major metropolitan newspapers that the bill was a bad idea.

Nowadays, a Democratic administration in such a position might well just give up. But the Roosevelt administration did not: it mobilized regional bankers, civic organizations, and labor groups on behalf of the bill, persuading them that it was vitally important to support Bretton Woods because (a) it was the first opportunity for Americans to show that in 1945, unlike in 1918, they would embrace international responsibilities and (b) it was a program for world prosperity and full employment.

That it hasn’t worked that way lately is more a reflection on what happened to Bretton Woods since 1971 than how and why it was created; at the time the Roosevelt administration meant it to save international capitalism, and lined up a coalition of bankers, businessmen, civic-minded middle-class professionals, and unions behind the idea that international capitalism should be saved.

(Which is the subject of this talk.)