Mátyás Rákosi ( 1892-1971)

Born into a shopkeeper's family in Ada (now in Serbia), Rákosi completed secondary school in 1910 and then studied at the Keleti Commercial Academy, where he received a diploma in 1912. From 1912 to 1914, he was a trainee with international commercial firms in Hamburg and London. He joined the Social Democratic Party in 1910, and began to take part in the Galilei Circle in 1911. On his return to Hungary in 1914, he volunteered for military service. He was sent to the eastern front early in 1915, where he was taken prisoner by the Russians. He escaped early in 1918 and returned to Hungary, where he became a training officer with an infantry regiment stationed at Szabadka (Subotica). In the same year, he became a founder member of the Hungarian Communist Party. As a member of the party's leadership, he was arrested on February 20, 1919, but freed on March 21. When the Hungarian Soviet Republic was proclaimed, Rákosi was appointed deputy commercial commissar and became a member of the Revolutionary Governing Soviet. On April 3, he became a member of the board directing the People' s Commissariat for Social Production and the Supreme People's Economic Soviet, as a people' s commissar. However, at the end of April, he was sent to the southern front as a political commissar. On June 24, he was elected a member of the Central Control Commission of the Governing Soviet, and on July 17, he was appointed national commander of the Red Guard. When the Hungarian Soviet Republic collapsed, he fled to Vienna on August 1, 1919, where he and the other communist emigrés were interned. He was freed in 1920, but deported after a speech on May 1 and permanently banned from visiting Austria. Rákosi travelled to Soviet Russia and joined in the work of the Comintern Executive. He was appointed a Comintern secretary in 1921. Sent home to Hungary in 1924, he was elected to the Central Committee at the congress re-establishing the Hungarian Communist Party in 1925 and made head of the domestic secretariat. He was arrested in Hungary in September 1925 and sentenced for rebellion to eight-and-a-half years' imprisonment as a common criminal. When he had served this sentence, he was prosecuted again for his activity under the Hungarian Soviet Republic. In 1940, he was allowed to travel to the Soviet Union, in exchange for the return of some honvéd regimental banners from the 1848-9 Hungarian war of independence. The two trials of Rákosi made him a well-known figure in the international communist movement. When he arrived in Moscow, he faced a party disciplinary investigation for conduct towards the police back in 1925, although neither the investigation nor the result were ever made public. In 1942, Rákosi became a leading politician among the Hungarian emigré communists. At first he represented his party in Comintern, and when that was dissolved, he became a Central Committee member and leader, and an editor for the Kossuth Radio station in Moscow. Rákosi returned to Hungary on January 30, 1945, when the Soviet leadership sent him to Debrecen the provisional seat of government, to organize the communist party. On February 22, 1945, he became general secretary of the combined Debrecen and Budapest Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist Party. After the 1945 elections, he was appointed state minister, and after the 1947 elections, deputy prime minister as well. On March 10, 1948, he was elected a Political Committee member of the merged communist and social democratic party, the HWP, and on March 19, its president. He became HWP General Secretary at the merging congress on June 12 of that year. On February 1, 1949, Rákosi was appointed president of the new Hungarian Popular Front for National Independence Patriotic People' s Front. After the 1949 elections, he became president of the State Security Commission, while retaining all his previous functions. Parliament elected him prime minister on August 14, 1952. From the time of his return from Moscow, Rákosi was the paramount leader of the communists, with a political influence greater than his formal position would suggest. During the communist assumption of power in 1947-9, Rákosi turned himself from leader of the HWP into the absolute ruler of his country. From the outset, he ran the ÁVH personally. In every aspect of building up the communist dictatorship, he followed the example of Stalin's Soviet Union. He was Stalin' s most diligent student in Eastern Europe, not least in pursuing the Byzantine process of self-glorification known later to its critics as the 'cult of personality' . However, he fell from favour with the Kremlin in 1953. In line with Soviet intentions, the Organizing Committee he headed was dissolved by the Central Committee of his party at its meeting on June 27- 8. He was replaced as prime minister by Imre Nagy. Although Nagy's New Cours had received encouragement from Moscow, Rákosi set about sabotaging the reforms wherever he could. From May 1954 onwards, he headed the committee dealing with rehabilitation of those illegally convicted in the show trials, while in fact trying to put a brake on the process. After a long period of intrigue, he managed to have Nagy removed in the spring of 1955, with Soviet approval, but he was unable to curb the popular dissent. Some of his colleagues turned against him after the 20th Congress of the CPSU and he was unsuccessful in trying to divert the blame, first onto Gábor Péter and then onto Mihály Farkas. He was dismissed as first secretary at the Central Committee meeting of July 18-21, 1956, and even failed to be re-elected to the Political Committee. After the meeting, he pleaded illness and left for treatment in the Soviet Union. During the 1956 Revolution, he remained in Moscow, where the CPSU Central Committee Presidium decided on November 5, 1956 that he should be removed from power permanently. Thereafter, Rákosi sent several letters to the Central Committee and to Khrushchev pressing to be allowed to return to Hungary. In February 1957, the Provisional Central Committee of the HSWP decided that he should not be allowed to return for five years. This decision was seconded on April 18 by the Central Committee of the CPSU. In June 1957, Rákosi was taken with his wife from Moscow to settle in Krasnodar, then in Tokmak in Kirghizia, and finally in Gorky. Meanwhile Rákosi had been shorn of his parliamentary seat on May 5, 1957. On November 1, 1960, the Political Committee of the HSWP suspended his membership of the party, from which he was excluded on August 16, 1962. The plenary session of the HSWP Central Committee in April 1970 was prepared to let him to return to Hungary provided he gave a written undertaking not to engage in politics. This he refused to do. He died on February 5, 1971 in Gorky, and on February 16, his ashes were secretly brought to Hungary and buried in the Farkasrét Cemetery in Budapest.

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This page was created: Wednesday, 23-Aug-2000
Last updated: Wednes, 12-Sept-2001
Copyright © 2000 The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

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