Mátyás Rákosi - New World Encyclopedia (2024)

Matyas Rakosi, gensek of Communist Party in Hungary to 1956; Tass 1952

Mátyás Rákosi (March 14, 1892 – February 5, 1971), born Mátyás Rosenfeld, was a Stalinist dictator of Hungary from 1945 to 1956 through his post as General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party supported by the Soviet Red Army. One of the most oppressive of Stalin's puppet dictators in East Europe, he fell from favor following Stalin's death and was removed from power shortly after Stalin's own excesses were made public. However, his tyrannical rule resulted later that year (1956) in the Hungarian up-rising, followed by Soviet military intervention to restore a communist regime. This action by the Soviets gave the lie to their claim that communist East Europe comprised of free, independent and voluntarily Marxist states and showed the free world that these so-called republics were merely satellites of a Soviet empire. Marxism, too, lost some ideological supporters in the West.


  • 1 Early life and career
  • 2 Leader of Hungary
    • 2.1 Economic Policy
  • 3 Forced retirement
    • 3.1 The Hungarian Rebellion
  • 4 Legacy
  • 5 Notes
  • 6 References
  • 7 Credits

Early life and career

Rákosi was born in Ada, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now in Serbia). The sixth son of a Jewish grocer, he later repudiated religion. He served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War and was captured on the Eastern Front. After returning to Hungary, he participated in the communist government of Béla Kun; after its fall he fled, eventually to the Soviet Union. This brief regime took advantgae of the post-World War I chaos in Hungary and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to take over the government from March, 1919 until August of the same year. After returning to Hungary in 1924 to re-organize the communist party, Rákosi was imprisoned for treason. His initial eight and a half year term was changed to life in 1935, although he was released to the Soviet Union in 1940, in exchange for the Hungarian revolutionary banners captured by the Russian troops at Világos in 1849. In the Soviet Union, he became leader of the Comintern. He returned to Hungary with the Red Army in 1945.

Leader of Hungary

Following the end of World War II, East Europe was left, effectively, under Soviet control since de facto Soviet troops now occupied the East, and de jure since the 1945 Yalta conference had agreed that the Soviets would reconstruct the East, while Britain and the USA would reconstruct the West. Hungary had been allied with Germany (although never officially) and by the end of the war it was completely occupied by the Soviets.[1] Committed to the worldwide spread of communism, the Soviets set about establishing puppet communist regimes in their agreed sphere of influence. When the communist government was installed in Hungary, Rákosi was appointed General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. In 1948, the Communists forced the Social Democrats to merge with them to form the Hungarian Workers Party. At this point, Rákosi dropped all pretense of democratic government, and Hungary became an outright Communist state. Communism in Hungary was never a bottom-up, popularist movement, but a top-down, totalitarian system imposed and supported by the Soviets.[2]

Rákosi described himself as "Stalin's best Hungarian disciple" and "Stalin's best pupil." He also invented the term "salami tactics," which related to his tactic of eliminating the opposition slice by slice. At the height of his rule, he developed a strong cult of personality around himself.

Rákosi imposed dictatorial rule on Hungary—arresting, jailing and killing both real and imagined foes in various waves of Stalin-inspired political purges—as the country went into decline. In August 1952 he also became prime minister of Hungary, but on June 13, 1953, to appease the Soviet Politburo, he was forced to give up the office to Imre Nagy, yet retained the office of General Secretary. Rákosi led the attacks on Nagy. On March 9, 1955, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Worker's Party condemned Nagy for "rightist deviation." Hungarian newspapers joined the attacks and Nagy was accused of being responsible for the country's economic problems and on April 18, he was dismissed from his post by a unanimous vote of the National Assembly. Rákosi once again became the leader of Hungary.

Economic Policy

The postwar Hungarian economy suffered from multiple challenges. Hungary agreed to pay war reparations approximating US$300 million, to the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, and to support Soviet garrisons. The Hungarian National Bank in 1946 estimated the cost of reparations as "between 19 and 22 percent of the annual national income." Moreover, Hungary's participation in the Soviet-sponsored COMECON (Council Of Mutual Economic Assistance), prevented it from trading with the West or receiving Marshall Plan aid. Postwar economic recovery reversed under the Rákosi government. The Hungarian currency experienced marked depreciation in 1946, resulting in the highest historical rates of hyperinflation known. By 1952, disposable real incomes sank to two-thirds of their 1938 levels; whereas in 1949, this figure had been 90 percent.

By 1953, post-war Hungarian manufacturing output fell to one-third of pre-war levels. The government used coercion and brutality to collectivize agriculture, and it squeezed profits from the country's farms to finance rapid expansion of heavy industry, which attracted more than 90 percent of total industrial investment. At first Hungary concentrated on producing primarily the same assortment of goods it had produced before the war, including locomotives and railroad cars. Despite its poor resource base and its favorable opportunities to specialize in other forms of production, Hungary developed new heavy industry in order to bolster further domestic growth and produce exports to pay for raw-material import.

Rakosi's regime also established wage controls and a two-tier price system made up of producer and consumer prices, which the government controlled separately. In the early 1950s, the authorities used these new controls to limit domestic demand and cut relative labor costs by tripling consumer prices and holding back wages. Popular dissatisfaction mounted as the economy suffered from material shortages, export difficulties, and mounting foreign debt.

Forced retirement

Rákosi, however, was now an embarrassment to the Soviets (and Stalin was dead) and was removed as General Secretary of the Party under pressure from the Soviet Politburo in June 1956 (shortly after Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech), and was replaced by Ernő Gerő.

When the anti-communist uprising began in October, 1956 Rákosi fled to Russia. The official reason given was that he was "seeking medical attention." He spent the rest of his life in the Kirgiz Soviet Socialist Republic. Shortly before his death, in 1970, Rákosi was finally granted permission to return to Hungary if he promised not to engage in any political activities. He refused the deal, and remained in the USSR where he died in Gorky in 1971.

After his death, his body was returned to Hungary for burial in Budapest.

The Hungarian Rebellion

Rákosi's rule had been so unpopular in Hungary that in October and November, 1956 an uprising took place that briefy succeeded in installing a government under Imre Nagy, Rákosi's rival, which was committed to democratic reforms, and removed Hungary from the Soviet alliance known as the Warsaw Pact. With Rákosi out of favor, the people were now ready for a real change in the running of the country. Although still a communist, Nagy's willingness to abolish the one party system and to initiate reforms made him an acceptable compromise ruler for the people of Hungary. The rebels expected military support from the free world, but this did not materialize. The United States was not prepared for a direct military encounter with the Soviets and informed their single agent in Hungary to restrict his activities to information gathering.[3] Initially, the Soviets agreed to negotiate terms for withdrawing from Hungary. Changing their mind, they then invaded. Civilians fought Soviet troops in the streets but the new government under Nagy fell and Some 200,000 Hungarians became political refugees. Nagy was found guilty of treason, and hung even though his Soviet-sponsored successor, János Kádár had promised him a safe-passage into exile. His reputation has been posthumously rehabilitated by the post-communist government of Hungary. The Soviets were not prepared to lose a satellite, and were quite prepared to prevent this by show of force.


Rákosi is remembered as one of the most repressive leaders of any Soviet proxy government in East Europe. The uprising of 1956 indicated that communism did not enjoy the support of the people, and although the rebellion failed, Hungary's next communist leader was more moderate, and put measures in place that did improve the economy and give people greater freedom. For example, he allowed private farming, made less use of repressive measures curbing the powers of the secret police and allowed limited private enterprise and trade—this became known as Goulash Communism. Yet Rákosi's own heritage of repression served to make communism less appealing to some of its ideological supporters in the West, and helped to show to the world that the so-called republics of eastern Europe were nothing but colonies of the Soviet Empire. Nonetheless, the communism that continued in Hungary until it collapsed in 1989 was of a different flavor and, as the term Goulash implies, comprised of different elements such as some of a more capitalist hue.


  1. By invading Yogoslavia in 1941, Hungary de facto sided with Germany. However, by the end of 1943 Hungary was negotiating peace with the Allies. The German response was to occupy the country and to place its own puppet government in power.
  2. On the relationship between Stalin and Rákosi, see János M. Rainer, "Stalin and Rákosi, Stalin and Hungary, 1949-1953," Paper presented on October 4, 1997 at the workshop “European Archival Evidence. Stalin and the Cold War in Europe," Budapest, 1956 Institute, Stalin and Rákosi, Stalin and Hungary, 1949-1953 Retrieved February 16, 2008.
  3. "CIA Had a single officer in Hungary, 1956," National Security Archive, USA CIA Had a single officer in Hungary, 1956 Retrieved February 16, 2008.


ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barber, Noel. Seven Days of Freedom The Hungarian Uprising 1956. New York: Stein and Day, 1974.
  • Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War A New History. New York: Penguin Press, 2005. ISBN 9781594200625
  • Lendvai, Paul. One Day That Shook the Communist World The 1956 Hungarian Uprising and Its Legacy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008. ISBN 9780691132822
  • Molnár, Miklós. From Béla Kun to János Kádár Seventy Years of Hungarian Communism. New York: Berg, 1990. ISBN 9780854965991


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Mátyás Rákosi - New World Encyclopedia (2024)


What was the rakosi regime? ›

Rákosi imposed totalitarian rule on Hungary — arresting, jailing and killing both real and imagined foes in various waves of Stalin-inspired political purges. In August 1952, he also became Prime Minister (Chairman of the Council of Ministers).

Who replaced Nagy? ›

Significance of the Hungarian revolution

Nagy was forced to resign and attempted to flee to Yugoslavia. The USSR replaced him with Janos Kadar.

Who was the leader of the Hungarian Soviet Union? ›

Though the de jure leader of the Hungarian Soviet Republic was president Sándor Garbai, the de facto power was in the hands of foreign minister Béla Kun, who maintained direct contact with Vladimir Lenin via radiotelegraph.

When did Imre Nagy become leader of Hungary? ›

Hence, the reformist communist Imre Nagy became prime minister (1953–55) of the Hungarian People's Republic, in replacement of the Stalinist Mátyás Rákosi (1946–56), whose heavy-hand style of communist government had proved counter-productive to the interests of the USSR in Hungary.

How many people were killed in the Hungarian Uprising? ›

The importance of the uprising

Approximately 3,000 Hungarians were killed. Approximately 200,000 fled abroad and became refugees. Nagy was forced to resign and attempted to flee to Yugoslavia.

What happened in 1968 in Czechoslovakia? ›

On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union led Warsaw Pact troops in an invasion of Czechoslovakia to crack down on reformist trends in Prague. Although the Soviet Union's action successfully halted the pace of reform in Czechoslovakia, it had unintended consequences for the unity of the communist bloc.

Why didn't the US help Hungary in 1956? ›

The United States was also reluctant to send reinforcements to the democratic rebellion in Hungary as neither troops nor nuclear weapons could be deployed to the Eastern bloc without the possibility of extending the conflict far beyond its original scope.

When did Hungary stop being communist? ›

Communist rule in the People's Republic of Hungary came to an end in 1989 by a peaceful transition to a democratic system.

Why did the Hungarians leave Hungary? ›

The postwar immigrants left Hungary because of changes in the political system, not for economic reasons, and intended to return to Hungary when the Soviet occupation of the country ended, making them émigrés rather than immigrants.

When did Czechoslovakia stop being communist? ›

The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, known from 1948 to 1960 as the Czechoslovak Republic, Fourth Czechoslovak Republic, or simply Czechoslovakia, was the Czechoslovak state from 1948 until 1989, when the country was under communist rule, and was regarded as a satellite state in the Soviet sphere of interest. a.

Why did Romania invade Hungary? ›

On August 27, 1916, the Kingdom of Romania declared war against Austria-Hungary and entered the First World War on the side of the Allies. In doing so, Romania's goal was to unite all the territories in which a Romanian population existed in a single state.

When did communism end in Poland? ›

On 4 June 1989, Poland's Solidarity trade union won an overwhelming victory in partially free elections, leading to the peaceful fall of communism in Poland.

Why did Russia invade Hungary? ›

The Soviet crackdown

Khrushchev refused to accept Hungary leaving the Warsaw Pact as it would leave a gap in the USSR's. buffer zone. with Western Europe. Thousands of Soviet tanks and soldiers entered Hungary to crackdown on the protests.

Was Hungary part of the USSR? ›

Hungary was never a part of the Soviet Union. Hungary and other states in Eastern Europe were known as Soviet satellite states during the Cold War. Most of these states were members of the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance which was the Soviet response to the founding of the western organisation NATO.

Who led Hungary in ww2? ›

Miklos Horthy, the anticommunist regent and virtual dictator of Hungary, who had once hoped to keep his country a nonbelligerent in the war, had reluctantly aligned Hungary with Hitler in November 1940.

What is the regime of Hungary? ›

Since 1989 Hungary has been a parliamentary republic. Legislative power is exercised by the unicameral National Assembly that consists of 199 members. Members of the National Assembly are elected for four years. In the April 2022 election, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won a fourth consecutive term in office.

What was the regime change in Hungary in 1989? ›

Communist rule in the People's Republic of Hungary came to an end in 1989 by a peaceful transition to a democratic system. After the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was suppressed by Soviet forces, Hungary remained a communist country. As the Soviet Union weakened at the end of the 1980s, the Eastern Bloc disintegrated.

What was the main reason for the Soviet invasion of Hungary? ›

In October, 1956, the Soviet Union ordered its troops to crush a nascent rebellion in Budapest, the capital of the Soviet satellite state of Hungary. Undertaken while the West was preoccupied by developments in the Middle East, the conflict demonstrated emerging political dissent in the Eastern Bloc.

What made Hungarians unhappy with Soviet control in 1956? ›

Hungarians experienced a repressive regime under Rakosi and during the early 1950s they became increasingly unhappy and disillusioned with the situation in Hungary - angry about rising levels of unemployment/poor living conditions and poverty, as well as the strict government rules and legislation.

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