FROM THE LEFT
Clemenceau had two political careers, divided by five years in which he sought an alternative outlet for his energies in literature and journalism. His first political career was ended by defeat in the 1893 elections, but had already run into the sands by 1889, by which time his overall challenge to the ruling republican faction had failed. With the Dreyfus Affair he made virtually a new beginning, coming into the cabinet for the first time in 1906 at the age of sixty-four, and going on to become the grand old man of French politics with his triumphant second ministry of 1917-18 when he became the living embodiment of France's will to fight to the end for national survival.
This chapter begins by describing the political background of the first period, in which he challenged the ruling republican groups, who rapidly became the real conservatives of France.
The Third Republic had been proclaimed on 4 September 1870, but the circumstances of the war meant that it remained only a provisional régime, without the moral authority conferred by elections. When the elections were held in February 1871 they produced a National Assembly with a majority of monarchists. It was to take eight years before the Republic was definitely established, during which the question of the régime monopolized the political stage. In these years Clemenceau played only a minor role. He acted as a loyal supporter of the republican cause from the extreme left wing of the republican party. This meant that he was on the extreme left of legal political life, outflanked only by the revolutionary Socialists who sought to overthrow existing society, and all its institutions, both social and political. They were, in any case, absent from the scene until 1879. Clemenceau had made his choice at the