Spoils system, czyli życie wśród łupieżców

27 February 1981, Peking

Today we saw Wu Zuguan’s play about conditions in China on the eve of Liberation. It seems, in order to avoid the present and its problems, intellectuals are once again withdrawing into the past, be it the recent past before 1949 or, like Cao Yu, the faraway ages of myths and legends.

After the show, dinner at the Qianmen Hotel with Ling, the student I met at the Museum of Fine Arts just after our arrival in Peking. The night outside was icy cold, the restaurant almost empty, the waiters absent-minded.

„Have any good short stories been published recently?” I ask Ling. He glances around worriedly. „None. The door has been slammed closed again. There was more freedom of speech last year.” The cold breeze, then. The party tightens the reins. The intellectuals go into hiding.

„Would you like to become a party member?” we ask him. „Of course not!” he says indignantly. „Young people hate the party. They won’t join it for any reason. They have known it only at its worst, in times of ferocity and persecutions, and they observe how now it is grabbing all the privileges for itself. That is why everyone is looking to the West when searching for new ideals, new aims. Some people consider it to be a new kind of cultural revolution,” he adds excitedly.

The Qianmen Hotel is depressing. The usual smell of lysol streams out of the toilets and spreads down the hall. The same Public Security types hang around the revolving door at the entrance. Guests are few. The rumour that doing business in China is difficult is spreading.

„What will become of the young, of their desire to open up to the world, to open their minds to other experiences?”

„We are left with one hope,” whispers Ling while the waiters set the tables for tomorrow’s breakfast. „When we’re forty and can have our say, we will change the system….”

„Provided the party doesn’t seduce you beforehand with its spoils system,” adds Tiziano, and Ling looks at him in horror.

(Fragment książki Angeli Terzani „Chinese Days”)

Ryszard Kapuściński Lapidarium I [rozdział Z Warszawy 1982]:

Można wprowadzić takie rozróżnienie systemów:
– jedne, w których głównym źródłem awansu są rzeczywiste kwalifikacje;
– drugie, w których źródłem takim jest lojalność. Pierwsze są dynamiczne, drugie statyczne. Dynamika potrzebuje ciągłego dopływu energii i tej energii społeczeństwo dynamiczne domaga się od człowieka. W ustrojach statycznych cel jest inny – chodzi tam o utrzymanie równowagi wewnętrznej, o konserwację struktury, o niezmienność. Zamiast przedsiębiorczej, samodzielnej jednostki potrzebny jest wierny i czujny strażnik istniejącego porządku.

Spoils system – the system of employing and promoting civil servants who are friends and supporters of the group in power. Więcej na www.britannica.com:

spoils system, also called patronage system,  practice in which the political party winning an election rewards its campaign workers and other active supporters by appointment to government posts and by other favours. The spoils system involves political activity by public employees in support of their party and the employees’ removal from office if their party loses the election. A change in party control of government necessarily brings new officials to high positions carrying political responsibility, but the spoils system extends personnel turnover down to routine or subordinate governmental positions.

The term was in use in American politics as early as 1812, but it was made famous in a speech made in 1832 by Senator William Marcy of New York. In defending one of President Andrew Jackson’s appointments, Marcy said, “To the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.” In Marcy’s time, the term spoils referred to the political appointments, such as cabinet offices or ambassadorships, controlled by an elected official.

Arguments in favour of the spoils system defend it as a means of maintaining an active party organization by offering loyal workers occupational rewards. It also guarantees the ruling party loyal and cooperative employees. Supporters of the practice claim this results in more effective government because the appointed officeholders have a stake in helping the elected official to carry out his policies and fulfill his campaign promises.

On the other hand, the spoils system too often resulted in appointments that were based strictly on the needs of the party, without regard for the appointee’s qualifications or ability to do the job. Extensive changes in positions that did not affect government policy, such as President Benjamin Harrison’s changing 31,000 postmasters in one year, also led to inefficiency.

The spoils system flourished unchallenged in the United States from the 1820s until after the Civil War, at which time the system’s abuses prompted civil-service reforms designed to cut down the number of government posts filled by appointment and to award jobs on the basis of merit. The Pendleton Federal Civil Service Act of 1883 provided the initial basis for the adoption of the merit system in the recruitment of federal officials, and by the late 20th century merit systems had almost completely replaced the spoils system at the federal, state, and city levels of government.

In addition to designating the awarding of public offices to party supporters, the term has come to refer to other abuses of political power designed to benefit and enrich the ruling party. These practices may involve, for example, siphoning public funds to the party by contracting with party contributors to handle public projects at inflated rates or by granting public franchises to party contributors at very low prices. The term also includes favouring supporters in areas like the prosecution of law cases, the placement of insurance policies, or the levying of taxes.

Although spoils system is an American political term, the practice of distributing public offices to reward supporters and strengthen a government is and has been common in many other countries as well.


Pendleton Civil Service Act [Credit: Brady-Handy Photograph Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no.LC-DIG-cwpbh-02930)] Pendleton Civil Service Act, (Jan. 16, 1883), landmark U.S. legislation establishing the tradition and mechanism of permanent federal employment based on merit rather than on political party affiliation (the spoils system).

Widespread public demand for civil service reform was stirred after the Civil War by mounting incompetence, graft, corruption, and theft in federal departments and agencies. After Pres. James A. Garfield was assassinated in 1881 by a disappointed office seeker, civil service reform became a leading issue in the midterm elections of 1882. In January 1883, Congress passed a comprehensive civil service bill sponsored by Sen. George H. Pendleton of Ohio, providing for the open selection of government employees—to be administered by a Civil Service Commission—and guaranteeing the right of citizens to compete for federal appointment without regard to politics, religion, race, or national origin. Only about 10 percent of the positions in the federal government were covered by the new law, but nearly every president after Chester A. Arthur, who signed the bill into law, broadened its scope. By 1980 more than 90 percent of federal employees were protected by the act. (source: http://www.britannica.com)

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