Michael Klonsky was born in 1943. His father, Robert Klonsky, was a Communist Party USA member who was convicted in the mid-1950s for advocating the forcible overthrow of the U.S. government—a violation of the Smith Act.
In the 1960s Michael Klonsky attended San Fernando Valley State College, where he joined the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In 1968 he became that organization’s national chairman and helped spark the riots which erupted in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. Klonsky was also a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
In 1968 Klonsky penned a document titled “Toward a Revolutionary Youth Movement,” wherein he quoted—with admiration—Chinese dictator Mao Zedong and called for the development of “an organized class-conscious youth movement” to engage in a “revolutionary struggle” against the “capitalist institutions” that allegedly used racism as “a primary tool … to exploit all working people.” Urging also “a more militant campus movement,” Klonsky demanded the preferential “admission of black students and brown students to help wage the fight against racism” in academia.
When fellow SDSers such as William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn broke away from the group and formed Weatherman in the late 1960s, Klonsky did not join them. Rather, he founded the “October League,” a Maoist organization that later (in June 1977) changed its name to the “Communist Party (Marxist Leninist),” or CP(ML). The Chinese Communist Party recognized CP(ML) as its U.S. fraternal party, and Mao Zedong greatly admired Klonsky.
In 1977, a year after Mao’s death, Klonsky became one of the first Americans ever to be invited as a guest visitor by China’s Communist government. He met with Mao’s successor, Hua Kuo-feng, and received what the Washington Post described as “the warmest reception ever given an American by the new Chinese leader.” According to the Chinese news agency, Klonsky, during that visit, emphasized CP(ML)’s commitment to “lead[ing] the struggle to topple the U.S. imperialist ruling class.”
The Chinese government would go on to invite Klonsky to a number of additional state-dinner-level visits in Beijing between 1979 and 1981, at which point CP(ML) dissolved as a result of factional splits and key defections.
Klonsky subsequently earned a doctorate and became a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he taught such graduate courses as “Teacher Leadership in School Change” and “Politics of School Reform.” Moreover, he was reunited with his old SDS comrade William Ayers, who was also on UIC’s education-department faculty. In 1991 Klonsky and Ayers co-founded a project known as the “Small Schools Workshop” (SSW), premised on the notion that if high schools were to limit their enrollment to no more than 400 students, the learning atmosphere on campus would be improved. Klonsky has served as SSW’s director since 1993.
Apart from lowering the size of classes, a central objective of SSW is to teach students that American capitalism is a racist, materialistic doctrine that has done incalculable harm to societies all over the world. Klonsky himself has confirmed that SSW seeks to convey anti-American themes within the context of academic lessons:
“An English teacher can explore misogyny or materialism in American culture through the lens of hip-hop lyrics. Or … a math teacher can run probability simulations using real data to understand the dynamics behind income inequality or racial profiling….'”
One of the more infamous students to attend an SSW school (Mountain View High School in Arizona) was Jared Lee Loughner, the gunman who — on January 8, 2011 in Tucson — shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head, leaving her in critical condition. Loughner also sprayed gunfire at others in the vicinity, wounding thirteen and killing six.
For additional information on Klonsky and SSW, click here.
When then-state senator Barack Obama and William Ayers served together as board members of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), an education-reform project of the mid-to-late 1990s, CAC gave Klonsky’s SSW a series of grants totaling $1,056,162. The Joyce Foundation and the Woods Fund of Chicago, on whose boards Obama also sat, gave SSW another $912,556.
In a 2001 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Klonsky candidly revealed that he and William Ayers were still pursuing the same radical agendas they had advocated in their younger days, the only difference being that they had now “learned how to work within the system.”
In 2008 Klonsky supported the presidential candidacy of U.S. Senator Barack Obama, whose campaign website initially gave Klonsky the privilege of running a blog that focused, as Klonsky put it, on “education politics and teaching for social justice.” But when law professor/blogger Steve Diamond in June 2008 called attention to Klonsky’s radical past, the Obama campaign suddenly scrubbed its website of anything Klonsky had ever written.
Today Klonsky is a board member of the Movement for a Democratic Society along with such luminaries as Paul Buhle, Noam Chomsky, Carl Davidson, Angela Davis, Bernardine Dohrn, Barbara Ehrenreich, Tom Hayden, Manning Marable, and Cornel West.
Klonsky is married to Susan Eanet, a Chicago activist who serves as Director of Development with the Small Schools Workshop. She belonged to the Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s, and to the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) in the 70s.