Claus Offe’s Contribution to Marxist Theory


      Political economy and political sociology have always been very helpful in order to understand how state theories work in practice. Even though each subject is uniquely valuable to assess the different sides of the topic, both of them greatly concide in Offe’s work.  In this essay, I will discuss both sides of the arguments briefly, before stating why I believe his work is a good contribution to the Marxist theory.

        It is hard to tell that Offe had a big impact over the theory as he has a complex and inexplicit ideas to discuss. However, he always had a deep concern on metaform of social relations, political requirements of existence, chronicles of late capitalism. His work mostly focus on such structural problems including political authority and crisis management. As for crisis management, we need to define concept of state with its redistribution role, while stuctural problems would be beneficial in examining the issue of class relations under democratic state.

        Offe  also notes that the capitalist state cannot effectively play its essential role as an ‘ideal collective capitalist’ unless it can conceal its institutionally inscribed class bias behind the cloak of the general interest and democratic legitimation. This means that the capitalist state must try to secure both capital accumulation and bourgeois legitimation and, insofar as these involve a strategic dilemma and can result in mutual antagonism, 108 Form and Functions of the State it is also obliged to compensate for any imbalance or conflict between them through appropriate administrative and/or repressive measures. Thus Offe argues that the continued dominance of the commodity form which is essential to bourgeois reproduction comes increasingly to depend on the existence of social and political activities and institutions which are not themselves organised through the commodity form and its attendant principle of the exchange of equivalents.

      Offe  refers to two major contemporary trends. First he notes that there is a continued expansion of non–productive labour which is not readily subordinated. Second he discusses the changing and expanding role of the state as an extra–economic institution in securing not only the general external conditions of production but also in supplying various material factors of production and/or providing welfare services outside the market–regulated economic system. The solutions suggested by Offe for these crisis–tendencies change during the course of his theoretical and empirical enquiries. At first he implied that it would be possible to avoid crises through a judicious combination of structurally selective institutional mechanisms, skilful preventive crisis management to ensure an appropriate balance among the goals of economic stability, foreign economic and military equilibrium, and mass loyalty, and, finally, ‘ideological planning’ to secure popular backing for technocratically determined policies.      

          In this context Offe outlines various responses  to the ‘crisis of crisis– management’. Initially he focused on the possibilities of what he descried as the ‘administrative recommodification’ of economic and social life. This involves active state intervention to roll back the expanding frontiers of non–commodity forms of social relations where possible and otherwise to subordinate them firmly to the logic of equivalent exchange.  Thus ‘administrative recommodification’ restricts the formal and substantive freedom of capital and labour and entails fiscal burdens that discourage investment. It also leads to the expansion of state–organised production facilities exempt from the commodity– form which can provide the site for political and ideological struggles against market rationality. And the transparent role of the state in the production and distribution of goods and services may also undermine ‘possessive individualism’ as an ideological precondition of the exchange principle.

         In other work  Claus Offe focuses on the dilemmas and contradictions that occur when the state attempts to compensate for crises of administrative rationality and/or mass loyalty through the introduction of new forms of economic planning and public participation. In this context he distinguishes between two types of state activity: allocative and productive. Allocation involves the use of state resources to secure the general framework of economic activity and/or to provide general public services in accordance with general constitutional or legislative codes which reflect the prevailing balance of political forces. Conversely, production involves direct state provision or state–sponsored provision of material resources as a precondition of crisis–avoidance or crisis– management where there is no general code that can be applied and decision rules must therefore be developed in order to determine the most effective action case by case.

    Thus, he studies confirm the argument he advanced earlier: that the basic problem of the capitalist state does not concern the specific policies to be pursued in solving the difficulties thrown up by the process of accumulation but actually resides in the prior creation and institutionalisation of general forms of policy– making and implementation that can reconcile its internal mode of operation with the successful performance of its functions on behalf of capital. This means that, far from providing a guarantee of the class character of the state as an ‘ideal collective capitalist’, the ‘structural selectivity’ of the state is potentially inimical to the interests of capital without thereby necessarily favouring the subordinated classes or new social movements.