The impact of Soviet rule on Hungary
In December 1944 a Provisional Government was formed in Hungary. It was dominated by the Hungarian Communist party, though had members of other ‘anti-fascist’ parties in the Cabinet. This government quickly agreed an armistice with the Soviet Union and paved the way for the creation of a permanent government structure in Hungary.
In April, 1945, the government was expanded and the Hungarian Communist Party won an overall majority in the elections that had been held. A second election in November, 1945, saw the HCP lose their overall majority but they formed a coalition and retained key government posts including oversight of security. Using this role the HCP managed to discredit many of their political opponents and had leaders of some parties arrested.
In the winter of 1948 Hungary was declared a Socialist Workers Republic. Military aid and training was now provided by the Soviet Union and the government took on a system much akin to that employed in the Soviet Union. Agriculture began to be collectivised, industry nationalised and Hungary joined, in January 1949, The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance which tied them economically to the Soviet Union and Soviet Satellite States. Along Soviet Lines the church was targetted through land reform and the secularisation of church schools. Unions were replaced with state controlled organisations.
This process of ‘Sovietisation’ continued under the leadership of Rakosi until 1953.
Rakosi was born in 1892 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the First World War he served in the army but was caputured by the Russians. His experience during the war radicalised him and upon his return to Hungary after the war’s end, he joined the Hungarian Communist party. Rakosi quickly became a significant figure in the party and held government positions in the hosrt lived Soviet State of Bela Kun. He spent a short time in the Soviet Union after the fall of Bela Kun and returned to Hungary in 1924, only to be immediately imprisoned.
In 1940 Rakosi was part of an exhange between the Hungarians and the USSR. He returned to Moscow where he was considered to be the leader of the Hungarian Communist Party. As the Red Army entered Hungary, Rakosi was ordered to return to Hungary and organise the Communist Party. He engineered firstly an overall majority and in the following election managed to ensure that the Communists held most of the major posts in a coalition government.
As Prime Minister, Rakosi had the ability to choose who held privileged positions. He used this position to the advantage of the Communist party. In 1947, for example, he had the Foreign Secretary arrested, tried and executed for criticising the influence of Stalin on Hungarian issues. Rakosi opted to slowly but surely get rid of people who opposed a Soviet style government. He termed his method ‘Salami Tactics’ as he sliced off opponents one by one. In all it is estimated that around 2000 people were executed as part of Rakosi’s attempt to impose a totalitarian regime in Hungary and over 200,000 were expelled from the Communist Party for not adhering to the official party line. An estimated 100,000 were also imprisoned whilst Rakosi was in charge.
Rakosi’s hold on power waned following the death of Stalin. The new Soviet leadership promoted Collective Leadership and this resulted in Hungary shifting the way in which government was organised. From 1953, Rakosi retained the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party but was replaced as Prime Minister by Nagy. The two men had rather different views of how the country should be run and a power struggle ensued for the next 3 years.
Following the Hungarian Revolution, Rakosi was removed from power. It was evident that he did not have control of the party or the people. In 1962 he was expelled from the Communist Party. He did not return to front line politics and died in 1971.