The Invisible Shining

The Cult of Mátyás Rákosi in Stalinist Hungary, 1945-1956
$111.00 / €95.00 / £90.00
Kindle edition is available through Amazon
Publication date: 
415 pages

This book offers a detailed analysis of the construction, reception and eventual decline of the cult of the Hungarian Communist Party Secretary, Mátyás Rákosi, one of the most striking examples of orchestrated adulation in the Soviet bloc. While his cult never approached the magnitude of that of Stalin, Rákosi’s ambition to outshine the other “best disciples” and become the best of the best was manifest in his diligence in promoting a Soviet-type following in Hungary. The main argument of Balázs Apor is that the cult of personality is not just a curious aspect of communist dictatorship, it is an essential element of it.
The monograph is primarily concerned with techniques and methods of cult construction, as well as the role various institutions played in the creation of mythical representations of political fi gures. Separate chapters present visual and non-visual methods of cult construction.
The author engages with a wider international literature on Stalinist cults in an impressive manner. Apor uses the case of Rákosi to explore how personality cults are created, how such cults are perceived, and how they are eventually unmade. The book addresses the success—generally questionable—of such projects, as well as their uncomfortable legacies.



The Stalinist Leader Cult: Origins, Interpretations and Functions
The Stalinist Leader Cult in Postwar Eastern Europe
The Stalinist Leader Cult in Hungary
A Note on Terminology

Part I: The Construction of the Cult

Chapter 1: The Chronology of Cult Construction (1925–1953)

Rákosi and the Hungarian Communists: The Road to Power
Cultic Traditions and Modern Personality Cults in Hungary
The “Hero of the Comintern”: The Origins of the Rákosi Cult
The Cult in the Party (1945–1947)
Rákosi on Stage
The Elections of 1947
The Legitimization Offensive (1948–1949)
“We Will Know Who Voted and Who Did Not”: The Elections of 1949
The Full-Blown Cult (1949–1953)
Rákosi’s Sixtieth Birthday

Chapter 2: The Institutions and Agents of Cult Construction

Institutions of Cult-Building
The Agents of the Cult
Rákosi and the Rákosi Cult

Chapter 3: “The Biography Is a Very Serious Issue”: The Role of Biographies in Constructing the Rákosi Cult

Biographies and Stalinist Political Culture
The Biographies of Rákosi
The Official Biography
The Biographical Narrative
Behind the Constructed Façade

Chapter 4: “He Was Created by a Thousand Years”: Nationalism and the Leader Cult

Nationalism and Communism
Stalin, the Mini-Stalins, and National Traditions
Rákosi, the Ultimate Freedom Fighter

Chapter 5: “Comrade Rákosi Lives with Us”: The Visual and the Spatial Aspects of the Rákosi Cult

Rákosi, the “Sacred Center”
Visualizing the Leader
The Spatial Allocation of Rákosi’s Images
Signposts of Progress: Renamings

Part II: Responses to the Cult’s Expansion

Chapter 6: “Love for Comrade Rákosi Has Become Deeper”: The Communicative Influence of the Cult

Popular Opinion and the Stalinist “Source Lens”
The Popularity of the Leader
The Elections of 1949
The “Rákosi Constitution”
“For Rákosi, thanks; for Rajk, the gallows!”
“Even the Air Changes”: Narratives of Rákosi’s Words
“Comrade Rákosi, Listen to My Problems as If You Were My Father”: Letters to the Leader

Chapter 7: “Death to Uncle Rákosi!” Negative Perceptions of the Cult

Critiques and Iconoclasts
Jokes and Political Rumors

Chapter 8: Ignorance Is Bliss: Popular Indifference and the Shortcomings of Communist Propaganda

The Cult’s Audience
The Cult’s Agents
Party functionaries
The Rákosi Cult: Circulation and Responses

Part III: The Dismantling of the Cult

Chapter 9: The “New Course” and the Decay of the Rákosi Cult, 1953–1956

The Death of Stalin and the Rákosi Cult
Cult Criticism in 1953–1956
“It Was Like a Phonograph Record”: The Meeting of the Central Committee on June 27–28
“We Spit in Our Own Face If We Discredit Our Leaders”: Cult-Dismantling Efforts during the “New Course” (June 1953–March 1955)
The Cult’s Renaissance in 1955

Chapter 10: The Collapse of the Rákosi Cult

The Twentieth Congress and the “Secret Speech”
“We Were Surprised by the Twentieth Congress”: The Effects of the “Secret Speech” on the Rákosi Cult
“It Hurts to See Comrade Rákosi Leave Like This”: Rákosi’s Abdication and the Uprising of 1956
“We Should Not Let Even the Illusion of the Personality Cult Appear”: Denouncing the Cult in the Kádár Era
From Politics to History
The “Withering Away” of the Rákosi Cult


"Apor is most helpful and pertinent regarding the cult’s idiosyncratic elements. He is keen to redress the tendency to assume that 'the constructed personae of mini-Stalins in the Soviet bloc were merely clones of Stalin’s mythical image'. The spread of leader cults across communist Europe was not just the production of facsimiles. Rather, Apor’s analysis of the specifically Hungarian elements of Rákosi’s cult, in connection with the overall communist project of recasting national history, is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of what made this regime distinctive. What Apor has concretely given us in The Invisible Shining is an invaluable investigation and analysis, assiduously compiled, of how Rákosi’s leader cult was constructed and imposed in Hungary. This was a grandiose utopian project served by most mundane and fallible means. Apor’s study will be a sturdy platform for anyone subsequently taking up the study of this brief but fateful cult and regime... more
"Balázs Apor’s book is a very welcome addition to the growing field of research on leader cults in communist countries. The author does not limit himself to analyzing the Rákosi cult in Stalinist Hungary, but also opens up a heuristic dialog with scholarship on the Stalin cult, the Sovietization of Central and Eastern Europe, and nationalism. The result is a well-written, clearly structured, and original monograph that sheds light on the way the periphery of the postwar Soviet sphere of influence functioned and how a crucial feature of Stalinist political culture – the party leader cult, which emerged across the communist world – expanded beyond the Soviet Union."