An Anarchist Guide to Exchange

The third part of our series, ‘An Anarchist Guide to…’ saw Richard Hougeuz of The Haircut Before the Party take us through ‘exchange’. Turns out most of our relations are communistic anyway, and, where money merely connects strangers as strangers, a more meaningful exchange might take place without it…

Illustration by Marco Bevilacqua

An Anarchist Guide to Exchange by Richard Houguez

We’ve always been quick to point out that the thing that unites everyone who comes to The Haircut Before The Party (THBTP), is the need for a haircut. But what else do people want from the situation, what are the prerequisites for an interesting exchange and what further potentials are there to explore? After all, the premise of offering free haircuts isn’t to meet that singular need, but to recognise other needs and desires that are shared socially; to open up space for clear and intensive communication, and to recognise the crossovers and tensions of the private and public, for example.

There’s something about the quality of cutting hair that establishes an immediate rapport between barber and client. From the first mention of the word short, both of us are keen to understand one another, to make sure communication is actually happening. This is important; after all, hair is one of the biological features of our identities which is most malleable, playful, and temporary. It is also caught up in ritualistic behaviour and private psychologies. Dare we talk of resistant aesthetics yet?

– – – 8< – – –

Adorned in a black and red cape, David Graeber meets us in the mirror, drops of water running down his neck from the quick shampoo. A little combing reveals some of the previous patterns from crown to nape.

“We’re all anarchist with our best friends”, comes as the after-thought to the initial introduction as a self-defined anarchist academic. The root to an anarchism or anarchisms being a path that draws ever closer to, but never reaches, a destination. Something that already exists within our behaviours and daily exchanges. Perhaps a thing to practice rather than depreciate, a thing to recognise rather than dismiss.

“If I ask someone for directions, I don’t expect them to say ‘five pounds, please’.”

He further proposes that behaviours typical of anarchisms and communisms also exist within capitalist production, which takes creativity and social relations and turns them into nightmarish scenarios.

Is this what is happening with mutual aid and Big Society? In which case, what does radical mutual aid look like?

“I think we know. I mean we do it all the time. It’s recognising the forms of imminent communism as being values in themselves, rather than simply being valuable to maintain the platform from which people can then extract profit.”

“I mean what fascinates me, the haircut is a great example, is just how much even the things that we do for money, most of the time, are things which involve these intense levels of interpersonal trust and communication, in which the boundaries between our very selves flow into each other. They’re all embodiments of the very principles, which then this logic of exchange that we have to look at everything from, tries to make disappear again. So we’re constantly living one kind of life and then for very elaborate reasons, that kind of life can’t exist. It’s unrealistic. It means denying the reality that’s around us all the time and most of what we’re doing even when we’re saying it.”

Is it feasible to expect all of us to become friends for the purpose of affinity and support with our personal politics and shared struggles? There’s a hesitance towards implementing friendship as a program, but I can still hear John Holloway’s ideas on anti-power, existing within “relations of love, friendship, comradeship, community, cooperation”. We can ask questions of these intimate expressions, how and where they happen, and how to proliferate the material conditions of solidarities across multiple shared needs.

With circular motions, the barber warms the styling wax between palms. This promises to be the first of many meetings between the two of them, if this bond is true.

– – – 8< – – –

In the vicinity of the chair, the artist and architect Celine Condorelli has something to say in relation to where the radical-barber stands on matters of political support in lieu of friendship.

“Support’s first operational feature is its proximity. No support can take place outside a close encounter, getting entangled in a situation and becoming implicated in it. A desire emerges, an offer opens; they are expressed in different ways, emitted or projected without or before being fully formed. It is not a word but a call, a longing; it cannot rely on intellectual awareness or abstract information, but requires a proximity and intimacy.”

The scissors’ blades make their interval snips, punctuating what is said, taking it onboard with a certain movement of its own. Quoting Derrida she recalls, “the specific political distinction, to which political actions and notions can be reduced, is the distinction between friend and enemy.”

The implication of support is that of the politics of friendship, for to give or receive support is an allegiance, and establishes who and what one can count on.

– – – 8< – – –

The barber shifts from one foot to the other, trying to take a measure of what was said. A supportive exchange is attainable from where they stand; they find themselves privy to all kinds of expressions, anecdotal, hypothetical, analogical. This barber listens for the tune of affinity, patterns of resistance, matching and combing through the aesthetics of the hair within their social contexts. The particularities of the individual’s identity and expression, whether it be in relation to gender, class, race, profession, personal experience and forms of communication, with their many intersections and contradictions, have to be acknowledged and met. “We want to cut your hair, not give you a haircut” was one of the guiding statements to come out of a recent gathering of radical hairdressers in Edinburgh. This point gets to the heart of where the radical hair practitioner starts from: oes it finish with the haircut?

– – – 8< – – –

What is in-common is a popular point of discussion in the salon these days; the idea of a relationship with and to private property, historically and presently, the common as an asset, a relation, or a process of ‘commoning’.

A woman with short curled hair sits in the adjacent chair, almost lost in the cutting cape. She swings her legs to find a particular tilt. Her hands are calmly clasped in lap, but her eyes shimmer with an urgent clarity. Silvia Federici, she is neither a regular at the salon, nor a stranger.

“Let me tell you as concrete as possible, what I know about reproduction and commons….”

Ears prick up.

“On the one side, there has been the demise of the statist model of revolution, that for decades has sapped the efforts of radical movements to build an alternative to capitalism. On the other, the neoliberal attempt to subordinate every form of life and knowledge to the logic of the market has heightened our awareness of the danger of living in a world in which we no longer have access to seas, trees, animals, or our fellow beings, except through the cash-nexus.”

Magazine pages ruffle and eyebrows raise.

“The new enclosures ironically demonstrated that not only have commons not vanished, but new forms of social cooperation are constantly being produced, also in areas of life where none previously existed.“

The haircut that is about to happen no longer feels separate from any political gesture or activity that existed before it. It is the same gesture as anyone who has behaved uneconomically – anyone who goes beyond what is expected of them – or sought to identify their individual struggle as inherently social and potentially collective. The hair clippings on the tiled floor softly take their place in the path well-trodden, in moments of creativity and struggle, that feels like it’s heading somewhere.

Richard Houguez is a member of The Haircut Before The Party, a collective that began cutting hair publicly in 2010 for Artsadmin’s Two Degrees festival, before following a line of flight through numerous public spaces, demonstrations, strikes and occupations. In August 2013, Richard arranged a Gathering of Radical Hair Practitioners as part of DIY#10 and is currently making arrangements for regular salons at The Common House, London.

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