IN China, the reformers are being booted out of the Communist Party hierarchy to avoid a dreaded ``split.'' In Hungary, they're being elevated to leadership posts for the same reason. The world Marx built seems, today, more concerned with convolution than revolution. China's aged ruling clique has taken the long-expected step of formally ousting reformist party leader Zhao Ziyang. Anyone associated with Zhao - or who, like Zhao, expressed sympathy for the student protesters - could follow him into political oblivion. These purges have a momentum of their own. By the time the process reaches the local level, party functionaries will likely be settling old scores as much as banishing suspected bourgeois liberals.
The outlook is for an extended period of political instability - brought on by men who above all fear instability. Deng Xiaoping, believing continued party rule depends on absolute unity, did all in his power to achieve it - but instead made China's philosophical rifts all the more obvious.
In Hungary, the leadership has also shifted, making room for a four-man presidium that includes three committed reformers. The fourth man out in this combination is party General Secretary Karoly Grosz, who a little over a year ago replaced longtime leader Janos Kadar. Mr. Grosz was then considered a fresh face, open to reform. He's now considered a stale moderate, lacking in vision.
Men like Imre Pozgay, one of the new top four, have to hold the party together and move it far enough away from the old image of repression and failure to attract popular support. Otherwise Budapest's leaders, like Warsaw's, could face humiliation next year when Hungarians vote in their first multi-party elections since 1947.
For now, China and Hungary are moving in opposite directions. It's far from clear where they'll end up. But Hungary's path offers the possibility, at least, of getting somewhere. China's present ``road to socialism,'' pitted by contradictions, is a sure dead end.