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Opportunist Republicans


Opportunist Republicans

The Opportunist Republicans (French: Républicains opportunistes), also known as the Moderates (French: Modérés), were a faction of French Republicans who believed, after the proclamation of the Third Republic in 1870, that the regime could only be consolidated by successive phases. Considered to be on the centre-left of the political spectrum at the time, they dominated French politics from 1876 to the 1890s, and were rivalled to their left, first by the Radicals and then by various Socialist parties. Despite the pejorative connotation of this label, the "Opportunists" were able to reinforce Republican tendencies in the country in a time when monarchists forces were still strong.

The "Opportunists"

Following the defeat of France against Prussia in 1871, the Government of National Defense held legislative elections in February 1871, while the Paris Commune was still proclaimed. Those elections were won by the monarchist Orleanists and Legitimists, however, and not until the 1876 elections did the Republicans win a majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

Henceforth, the "Opportunists" thought that the balance of the new regime, threatened by the risk of another Bourbon Restoration, could only be insured by an implicit alliance between the rural peasants and the urban petty bourgeoisie, who represented the majority of the population.

Its primary figures, who sometimes opposed each other, included Léon Gambetta, leader of the Republican Union, Jules Ferry, leader of the Republican Left, Charles de Freycinet, who directed several governments in this period, Jules Favre, Jules Grévy, and Jules Simon — because of their names, this period has also been called the "République des Jules" (Republic of the Juleses). While Gambetta opposed colonialism as he considered it a diversion from the possibility of a revenge against the newly founded German Empire, Ferry was part of the "colonial lobby" who took part in the Scramble for Africa.

The Opportunists broke away with the Radicals who supported deep transformations of society, leading to strong disagreements in the Chamber of Deputies, in particular with Georges Clemenceau.

Their successors, qualified as "progressists", slowly transformed their elders' tactics into social conservatism. At the end of the 19th century, the Opportunists were replaced by the Radicals as the primary force in French politics. Despite this, they insisted in considering themselves as members of the French Left, a phenomenon known as sinistrisme.

See also

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