Illegalism is an anarchist philosophy that developed primarily in France, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland during the early 1900s as an outgrowth of individualist anarchism.

The illegalists embraced either openly or secretly criminality as a lifestyle. The illegalists use Max Stirner's Egoism as a justification for illegalism. However, not all illegalists are supporters of Max Stirner and his philosophy. Jules Bonnot and the Bonnot Gang have been described as illegalist by some. Illegalism does not specify on the type of crime, however the most common illegality practiced by the illegalists is theft, often from workplaces or stores.

Illegalism first rose to prominence among a generation of Europeans inspired by the unrest of the 1890s, during which Ravachol, Émile Henry, Auguste Vaillant and Caserio committed daring crimes in the name of anarchism, in what is known as propaganda of the deed.

Influenced by theorist Max Stirner's egoism, the illegalists in France broke from anarchists like Clément Duval and Marius Jacob who justified theft with a theory of individual reclamation (la reprise individuelle). Instead, the illegalists argued that their actions required no moral basis and illegal acts were taken not in the name of a higher ideal, but in pursuit of one's own desires. In Paris, this milieu was centred on the weekly papers L’Anarchie and the Causeries Populaires (regular discussion groups meeting in several different locations in and around the capital each week), both of which were founded by Albert Libertad and his associates.

Influence on Social Anarchism

After Peter Kropotkin and other social anarchists decided to enter labor unions after their initial reservations, there remained the anti-syndicalist anarchist-communists, who in France were grouped around Sebastien Faure’s Le Libertaire.

From 1905 onwards, the Russian counterparts of these anti-syndicalist anarchist-communists become partisans of economic terrorism and illegal expropriations. Illegalism as a practice emerged and within it "the acts of the anarchist bombers and assassins ("propaganda by the deed") and the anarchist burglars ("individual reappropriation") expressed their desperation and their personal, violent rejection of an intolerable society. Moreover, they were clearly meant to be exemplary, invitations to revolt". In another less dramatic sense, "at that time this term was used to indicate all those practices prohibited by law that were useful for resolving the economic problems of comrades: robbery, theft, smuggling, counterfeiting money and so on"

Such acts of rebellion which could be individual were in the long run seen as acts of rebellion which could ignite a mass insurrection leading to revolution. Proponents and activists of this tactic among others included Johann Most, Luigi Galleani, Victor Serge and Severino Di Giovanni. In Argentina, these tendencies flourished at the end of the 1920s and during the 1930s, "years of acute repression and of flinching of the once powerful workers movement—this was a desperation, though heroic, of a decadent movement".

France's Bonnot Gang was the most famous group to embrace illegalism. The Bonnot Gang (La Bande à Bonnot) was a French criminal anarchist group that operated in France and Belgium during the Belle Époque from 1911 to 1912. Composed of individuals who identified with the emerging illegalist milieu, the gang utilized cutting-edge technology (including automobiles and repeating rifles) not yet available to the French police.

Originally referred to by the press as simply "The Auto Bandits", the gang was dubbed "The Bonnot Gang" after Jules Bonnot gave an interview at the office of Petit Parisien, a popular daily paper. Bonnot's perceived prominence within the group was later reinforced by his high-profile death during a shootout with French police in Nogent-sur-Marne.

Modern Illegalism

Illegalism has been updated by currents such as insurrectionary anarchy and post-left anarchy. In Spain and Latin America, a campaign called Yomango has appeared, which advocates shoplifting and thus updates individual reclamation.

Horst Fantazzini was an Italian-German individualist anarchist who pursued an illegalist lifestyle and practice until his death in 2001. He gained media notoriety mainly due to his many bank robberies through Italy and other countries. In 1999, the film based on his life 'Ormai è fatta!' was released.

The f/Illegalism community is the largest meeting place for illegalists on the Internet. It began on reddit, but was banned by that site for promoting illegal activity and moved to raddle as f/shoplifting. f/shoplifting was transferred to f/Illegalism in June 2019 due to a series of events involving hostilites between f/shoplifting and the rest of Raddle and the repeated harrassment of trans users. Another forum, f/Be_Gay_Do_Crime , was added to discuss illegalist theory and history.

The piracy of media and software is the most widely practised form of illegalism today, with countless people around the world rejecting the oppressive concepts of copyright law that are designed to serve wealthy media conglomerates. Pirates bypass buggy and insecure media portals that track and commodify users, and instead freely distribute files cleansed of malicious code such as DRM.

As resources continue to be hoarded by the rich and the divide between the classes grows ever wider, illegalism has become a necessity for survival in the modern world.