Mátyás Rákosi was born Mátyás Rosenfeld on 9 March 1892 in Ada, Austria-Hungary (now Ada, Serbia). Served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in World War I. Was captured by the Russians and spent the majority of the war in a prison camp in Russia.
Joined the Hungarian Communist Party upon returning to Hungary in 1918. Was commander of the Red Guard in the Hungarian Soviet Republic established by Béla Kun in March 1919. Admiral Miklós Horthy, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial and Royal Fleet, returned to Hungary in November 1919 in the midst of the Hungarian- Romanian War and led the successful overthrow of Kun’s government. Rákosi escaped to Russia; with Joseph Stalin’s support, he became Secretary of Comintern.
Rákosi returned to Hungary in 1924, only to be imprisoned by Horthy’s government. Escaped to the Soviet Union upon his release in 1940 and stayed in Moscow for the remainder of World War II.
When the Red Army drove the Nazis out of Hungary in 1945, Rákosi returned from hiding and became General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. In the free elections held in November 1945, the Hungarian Communist Party received only 20% of the votes. However, the Communists took over Hungary because they filled all the important posts; Rákosi emerged as the most important political figure in Hungary. The Hungarian Communist Party became the biggest single party in 1947 elections and served in the coalition People’s Independence Front government.
The communists, with Rákosi as prime minister, gradually took control of the government. When foreign secretary László Rajk openly criticized attempts by Joseph Stalin to impose Stalinist policies on Hungary, he was arrested, convicted of treason and executed. Nothing could stop Rákosi from imposing authoritarian rule; nearly 2,000 people were executed and more than 100,000 were arrested. These brutal policies were opposed even by some members of the Hungarian Communist Party; around 200,000 were expelled by Rákosi from the party.
Rákosi faced great difficulty in managing the Hungarian economy and living standards in Hungary dropped. His government’s popularity declined significantly; when Joseph Stalin died in March 1953, Rákosi was replaced as prime minister by Imre Nagy. Nevertheless, he remained the General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party; over the following three years, Rákosi and Nagy fought in a bitter struggle for power. In 1956, he was ousted from power ; he was expelled from the Hungarian Communist Party in 1962. Following his expulsion, Rákosi went into exile in the Soviet Union and died in Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) on 5 February 1971, almost 36 days short of his 79th birthday.