Mátyás Rákosi was a Hungarian politician. Rákosi was very much a supporter of Joseph Stalin and was seen by Moscow as a safe pair of hands after the end of World War Two when the Red Army dominated what was to become the Eastern Bloc.
Mátyás Rákosi was born in 1892 in Ada. He fought in World War One but was captured by the Russians and held in a prisoner-of-war camp. Radicalised by this experience, Rákosi joined the Hungarian Communist Party after returning to Hungary in 1918.
After the collapse of the short-lived Soviet Republic in Hungary led by Bela Kun after World War One when Rákosi was commander of the Red Guard, he fled to Austria. From Austria he made his way to Communist Russia where Joseph Stalin supported him. Rákosi secretly returned to Hungary in 1925 where he was tasked with restarting the Hungarian Communist Party but this was fraught with difficulties – not least that the party was an underground movement that the government wished to infiltrate. The Hungarian Communist Party could hardly advertise its existence, so ‘spreading the word’ was difficult in the extreme.
In 1927, Rákosi was caught by the police and sent to prison for eight years. In 1935 after his release Rákosi continued his former political ways but he was re-arrested and sent to prison for life.
In November 1940, Rákosi was released from prison (along with other imprisoned Hungarian communists) and allowed to go to Moscow in exchange for some Hungarian patriotic flags that had been held in Russian museums since 1849.
Rákosi was immediately recognised as the leader of the Hungarian Communists by Moscow. He held the post of ‘party boss’ until July 1956.
At the end of World War Two, the east of Europe was under the control of the Red Army. Any Moscow satellite state in Eastern Europe had a Moscow-accepted leader imposed on it and Rákosi returned to Budapest as a hard-line supporter of Joseph Stalin. He used what he called ‘slice off’ tactics to remove anyone who he could not totally trust and his ‘salami tactics’ removed any faction that was thought to be disloyal to Moscow.
Rákosi remained the most powerful man in Hungary while Stalin was alive. Stalin’s death led to the fall of Rákosi and he was replaced with Imre Nagy.
While he held power, Rákosi believed in the use of the secret police (the AVO) to hunt out opponents. It is believed that 2,000 Hungarians were executed while he led the government with another 100,000 sent to prison. It was Rákosi’s unwillingness to dilute the AVO’s power that led to the 1956 Hungarian Uprising.
The Hungarian Uprising must have startled Moscow. To them Rákosi, who was still General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, seemed to be a man who had lost control – as indeed he had. Mátyás Rákosi failed to understand the anger that existed in his country against Soviet authority and his blind faith approach in ‘what was good for Moscow was good for Hungary’ was not shared by the majority in Hungary. At the end of the Uprising, it was clear that new men were needed in government and Janos Kádár became the head of the Budapest government. Rákosi suffered the ultimate party indignity when he was expelled from the Communist Party in 1962 – the final rejection by the political machinery that he had supported for decades.
Mátyás Rákosi died in 1971.