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Working for the Workers: Yellow Springs Marxist Institution Gains Steam

by Thom Kilburn

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One doesn’t meet many Marxists these days. The far-left ideology centered around working class struggle seldom rears its head outside of political science lectures and heated intellectual debates. But recently, a group of politically charged Yellow Springs citizens and academics have mobilized to bring Marxism back into the mix by establishing the Rust Belt School.

The newly-founded center is a multifaceted initiative that pivots around education, theory, research and organization. It provides an online and real-world space in which workers, organizers, artists and intellectuals can collaborate and study political economy. The school is tightly nestled in the Yellow Springs Union Schoolhouse Building where its members regularly convene.

According to their website, the Rust Belt School is committed to the propagation and advancement of social theory and revolutionary practice for the ultimate benefit of the working class.

“The Rust Belt School has a trinity of goals,” said Matt Carson, one of the school’s three founders along with Amanda Winfield and Mike Bessler. “We make materials available for people to read, produce theory that directly relates to working class struggles in America today and give people a location to organize.”

The project arose from a friendship between Carson and Mike Bessler, both of whom frequented and contributed to the Marxist Internet Archive, an initiative that aims to collect and archive thousands of Marxist materials and make them freely available. Winfield, also a long time organizer, met Carson while both were working at the McGregor Library at Antioch University.

“One of the problems, though, with an archival initiative like that is the copyright issues,” said Carson. “When you try to make a digital copy of every piece of Marxist literature that exists, you’re going to encounter a few lawsuits. Bessler and I soon realized that libraries can grant access to such materials. So, we decided that was an important thing to pursue.”

Carson currently works in one of Antioch University’s libraries. Recently, he said he has been noticing a trend where OhioLINK, an information network among statewide universities, has been removing materials related to the Cold War and the Labor Movement in the United States from the database.

“At Antioch, we immediately jumped on the opportunity to add these materials to the university’s collection,” said Carson. “I realized pretty soon, though, that tons of these materials weren’t being taken—which left this huge gap in accessible literature.”

From then, Carson, Winfield and Bessler began collecting these materials other libraries were abandoning—items that, according to Carson, touched on the importance of working class struggle. Thus, the Rust Belt School took form. According to Carson, picking the name was easy.

“Nearly 20 or 30 years ago, when someone was just getting out of high school, that person could go to a factory and would be guaranteed a livable wage. This is when the term ‘Rust Belt’ was coined” said Carson. “Now, if you walk around Dayton, you’ll see countless abandoned factories—everything is decaying. ‘Rust Belt’ has never been more applicable.”

Since its creation, the Rust Belt School’s collection of leftist and Marxist books, out-of-print pamphlets and other media has been growing rapidly. Much of the ever-accumulating library includes materials that can’t be found anywhere else.

“There’s this notion that the internet has all of the information mankind has ever produced,” said Carson. “But this simply isn’t true. With the system of copyright and property ownership, there’s just no way everything will wind up online. We have information that is disappearing, that is rare, that preserves a corner of history.”

On top of amassing an impressive library of educational resources, the Rust Belt School provides tangible support for the working class.

“I think it’s important for working peoples to figure out how to organize themselves. But it’s more important for them to find the language to better understand their situations and working conditions—this gives them the tool set and the agency to actually make progress in improving their lives.”

To learn more about the Rust Belt School, Marxist theory, or to find out how to get involved, send an e-mail to rustbeltschool@gmail.com and on Facebook here.

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