THE ouster of hard-line Russian Communist Party leader Ivan Polozkov is the latest attempt by party faithful to patch up their tattered reputation and preserve a leading role in Soviet politics.But at the same time, Communists in the Russian republic hastened a potentially devastating split in the party by expelling leaders of a newly formed reform faction called the Democratic Party of Russian Communists (DPRC). Mr. Polozkov was forced to resign Tuesday during a Central Committee session of the Russian Communist Party devoted largely to the topic of reform. The Russian Party is by far the biggest branch of the national organization. Valentin Kuptsov, a Central Committee secretary of the national Communist Party, was elected the new leader of the Russian organization. Mr. Kuptsov, a political ally of President Mikhail Gorbachev, is more moderate than Polozkov, a vehement opponent of the move to a market economy. The Central Committee ended its plenum by scheduling a full-blown Russian Communist Party congress for December or January to discuss further reforms. Polozkov's views were extremely unpopular with many rank-and-file Russian Communists, contributing to the drastic drop in popularity and the mass resignations from the national Party during the last year. But it was the formation of the DPRC that caused many mainstream Communists to view Polozkov's leadership as a liability. The faction, which wants quicker implementation of market reforms, could further weaken the party by siphoning off up to 4 million liberal members. "Changing the Party leader was an obvious attempt to strengthen the Party's positions and try to change the negative attitude toward the Party as a conservative organization," the official Tass news agency said in a commentary. The expulsion, however, of democratic faction leaders, including Russian Federation Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, could negate the Russian Party's move to boost its popularity. An Afghan War hero, Mr. Rutskoi has become an extremely popular politician in Russia. Since its formation last weekend, the democratic faction had sought to distance itself from "the conservative policy of the leadership of the Russian Communist Party," adding that it expressed "the will of the majority," according to a DPRC resolution released Tuesday. The DPRC had been condemned by both national and Russian Communist leaders as violating the Party's ban on internal factions. Though it originally wanted to operate within the Party framework, the DPRC could emerge into an independent political force following the expulsion of its leaders. That could touch off a bitter fight over the vast property holdings of the Communist Party. The final split could come in November or December during the scheduled Soviet Communist Party congress. The challenge by the DPRC is just the latest in a series of crises the Communists have had to confront. The Party has been on the defensive since last month's announcement of the formation of a national democratic movement headed by former Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Politburo member Alexander Yakovlev. The movement is still in its formative stages, but many political observers say it could eventually challenge the Communist Party for political supremacy in the Soviet Union. The Communists received another blow Sunday, when Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin's ban on party cells at workplaces and government offices took effect. In the meantime, the party has had to deal with internal threats. Late last month, for example, Mr. Gorbachev averted a widely-anticipated party split by winning approval for a new reform-minded program during a Central Committee plenum of the Soviet Party. The program, which must be approved at the Party congress, discards Marxism-Leninism in favor of a market-oriented outlook. But some Communists believe the new program will only have a temporary soothing effect, adding that the emergence of the DPRC is sure to renew the intra-party confrontation. Polozkov had led the Russian Communist Party since its formation last summer. In a speech before his resignation Tuesday, Polozkov blasted both Mr. Yeltsin and Rutskoi. He called Yeltsin's ban on party activity in the workplace a "perfidious attack on democracy," while denouncing Rutskoi's democratic faction as "an organization of pretenders."