[OPE-L:3598] Re: constant capital and variable capital

Allin Cottrell (cottrell@wfu.edu)
Tue, 5 Nov 1996 14:52:30 -0800 (PST)

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I'm not persuaded (surprise!) by the recent discussion of
the "single-system" interpretation of Marx.

Consider the following (much quoted) passage:

"We had originally assumed that the cost-price of a
commodity equalled the *value* of the commodities consumed
in its production. But for the buyer the price of
production of a specific commodity is its cost-price, and
may thus pass as cost-price into the prices of other

Note: "may thus pass into the prices..." and not "may thus
pass into the values...".

Continuing: "Since the price of production may differ from
the value of a commodity, it follows that the cost-price of
a commodity containing this price of production of another
commodity may also stand above or below that portion of its
total value derived from the value of the means of
production consumed by it." (Moscow edition, 164-5)

Note the parallel formulation: cost-prices of inputs feed
into cost-prices of outputs, while the values of inputs feed
into the values of outputs -- "the portion of its total
value derived from the value of the means of production".
This seems quite clear.

So what about the formulations dropped by Engels, in which
Marx says: price of production = cost-price plus profit;
value = cost-price plus surplus value? It seems clear that
*in that context* Marx is assuming that the *inputs* are
sold at their values, not at prices of production that
deviate from values. This would be appropriate for the
first step in an iterative derivation of prices of
production (not that I'm suggesting that Marx gets that

But how can I attribute this assumption to Marx, when in
"the same breath" he's talking about how cost-prices can
deviate from values? Easy, you find this sort of "wavering"
also in Chapter 12. For instance:

"The price of production, as we have seen, = k+p, ... in
which k, the cost-price ... is everywhere equal to the value
of the constant and variable capital consumed in the
production of the commodity...." (p. 206) BUT "the cost-price
of a commodity may already contain a deviation from value"
(half a page later).

This is all perfectly consistent with the idea that Marx is
groping towards some sort of iterative transformation. He
knows that the cost-prices of inputs may already deviate
from values, but at the same time he keeps slipping back to
the "simple case", where inputs are purchased at their

As one further observation, look at the first couple of
pages of chapter 12 as a whole. Marx is providing what is
obviously intended as an exhaustive account of the factors
capable of producing a change in a commodity's price of
production. One possibility is that the value of the
commodity changes. How does Marx describe this possibility?
In terms entirely compatible with the standard
embodied-labour interpretation: "This [a change in value]
may be due to more, or less, labour being required to
reproduce the commodity in question, either because of a
change in the productivity of labour which produces this
commodity in its final form, or of the labour which produces
those commodities that go into its production." (206) And
that's all. No mention of the possibility that an input
price changes independently of any change in the value of
that input, which would be an additional possible cause of a
change in the value of the output commodity *if* the
single-system view had been Marx's.

Allin Cottrell