BUDAPEST — HUNGARY'S reformist leaders are fighting to maintain the unity of their new socialist party barely two days after they abandoned old-style communism and declared that the country's future lay in multi-party democracy. Radicals are complaining that the Hungarian Socialist Party, born Saturday after the Communist Party voted itself out of existence at an historic party congress, is too similar to the old party to persuade Hungarian voters that a decisive break has been made with the past.
The Socialist Party's leadership Sunday voted overwhelmingly to keep a presence in the workplace - a political strategy long practiced in the East bloc under one-party Communist rule as a way of exerting social control.
The vote angered reformers who seek to draw a clear line between the old Marxist-Leninist party and its successor.
Conservatives challenged the leadership's right to announce the Communist Party's abolition and extreme hard-liners vowed to break away and establish a new communist organization as early as today.
Former ideology chief Janos Berecz, speaking on behalf of delegates who want to remain communist, said: ``We remain in the [old Communist Party] and we hope the majority of the membership will remain.''
Like neighboring Poland, Hungary has embarked on a daring effort to transform an unpopular communist system into a Western-style democracy with a market-based economy.
The stakes are high for the Socialist Party because, in its previous incarnation as the Communist Party, it lost four successive parliamentary by-elections this year to relatively small and inexperienced opposition groups.
Delegates were to spend yesterday completing the new party's program and choosing its leaders. One possible leader is Rezso Nyers, the former communist chief, who says the party must remain united to avoid political instability in Hungary. Mr. Nyers, a moderate, was believed to have had wide support before Sunday's vote, but radical reformers - the driving force behind scrapping the old party and creating a new one - were thought likely to rejecte him.
Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth and arch-reformer Imre Pozsgay have spearheaded the drive to turn the party into a democratic socialist party, committed to holding Hungary's first free elections since 1947 next year and to relinquishing power if it loses.
But the party includes almost all but the most hard-line factions of the old Communist Party.