Benjamin Disraeli(redirected from Benjamin, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield Disraeli)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.
(Lord Beaconsfield). Born Dec. 21, 1804, in London; died there Apr. 19, 1881. British statesman and writer.
Disraeli was the son of Isaac Disraeli, a man of letters and a Jew who had converted to Christianity. In preparation for a career as a lawyer, Disraeli spent three years reading law in a lawyer’s office. Later, he engaged in literary work. His first novels were Vivian Grey (1826-27), Contarini Fleming (1832), Henrietta Temple (1837), and Venetia (1837). In the novel Coningsby, or the New Generation (1844) the aristocratic hero calls for the abolition of the bourgeois government, which condemns the common people to poverty, and advocates strengthening the rights of the monarchy and the church. The novel Sybil, or the Two Nations (1845) depicts a false reconciliation of social contradictions under the aegis of a wise, humane aristocracy. Moreover, in Sybil the popular movement is described as an elemental, senseless uprising. The novel Tancred, or the New Crusade (1847) is permeated with political allusions and contains portraits of prominent figures.
Between 1832 and 1834, Disraeli tried to win a seat in Parliament with the support of the Whigs, but after twice suffering defeat he switched to the Tory Party, and with its support he was elected to Parliament in 1837. In his political pamphlets Vindication of the English Constitution and The Spirit of Whiggism he was critical of the ideas of democracy and popular representation. In the early 1840’s he was the head of a group of Tory Party leaders called Young England. Demagogically criticizing the factory system and the egoism of the Whigs and the industrial magnates, Disraeli and his adherents also argued for strengthening the crown, the church, and the aristocracy. Marx and Engels characterized the ideas of Young England as “feudal socialism” (Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4, pp. 448-49).
The Peel government’s switch to a position favoring free trade and the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 evoked dissatisfaction in the Tory Party, giving Disraeli an opportunity to lead the opposition in Parliament. In 1848 he was elected leader of the Tories. As chancellor of the exchequer in 1852 and from 1858 to 1859, Disraeli was actually head of the government. Serving again as chancellor of the exchequer in Derby’s third cabinet (1866-68), he pushed through an electoral reform in 1867 that considerably increased the number of voters. By this step Disraeli was attempting in particular to build Tory popularity and raise his personal prestige. However, the Tories (Conservatives) were defeated in the elections of 1868, and Disraeli, who had been head of the cabinet after Derby’s resignation as prime minister (1868), retired from office. Again a member of the opposition, Disraeli advanced a program for an active colonial policy and an economic and political “consolidation of the empire.” He played an important role in transforming the Tory Party into the Conservative Party.
As head of the Conservative government between 1874 and 1880, Disraeli made questions of foreign and colonial policy the center of political activity, using militant declarations to try to distract the masses from urgently needed domestic reforms. In 1875 he bypassed Parliament and acquired from the Egyptian khedive a group of shares in the Suez Canal Company, paving the way for Great Britain’s subsequent seizure of Egypt. On Disraeli’s initiative the queen of England was given the title empress of India in 1876. Striving to hold firm positions in the Ottoman Empire, Disraeli attempted to justify the Turkish policy of fierce suppression of nationalist movements in the Balkans. His position as defender of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire did not prevent Disraeli from compelling Turkey to yield the island of Cyprus to Great Britain in 1878. Defeat in the colonial war of 1878-80 against Afghanistan, serious attacks on British colonists in the Zulu War of 1879, and the revolt of the Transvaal Boers, which began in 1880, compromised the policy of Disraeli’s government. In the elections of 1880 the Conservatives were defeated, and Disraeli retired. In imperialist circles the reactionary ideas of Disraeli, his propaganda for a policy of aggression, and his demagoguery, which was calculated to deceive the masses, won him great popularity. In 1876 he received the title of Lord Beaconsfield.
WORKSNovels and Tales, vols. 1-10. London, 1870-71.
The Novels, vols. 1-11. London, 1927-28.
In Russian translation:
Genrietta Templ’. St. Petersburg, 1867.
Rimskie proiski, parts 1-3. St. Petersburg, 1871.
Endimion. St. Petersburg, 1881.
David Al’roi. Odessa, 1915.
REFERENCESMarx, K. and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vols. 8-16. (See Index of Names.)
Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 375.
Maurois, A. Kar’era Dizraeli. [A biographical novel.] Moscow, 1934. (Translated from French.)
Meynell, W. The Man Disraeli: Unconventional Biography. London, 1927.
Blake, R. B. Disraeli. London, 1966.
N. A. EROFEEV