A strong attack on ''leftism'' - the now discredited ideology of China's Cultural Revolution - has been made by a powerful Army commander who once himself opposed senior leader Deng Xiaoping.
Gen. Li Desheng, author of a half-page appeal to ''continue to eradicate leftist ideological influence'' appearing recently in the People's Daily, commands the northeast military region on the sensitive border with the Soviet Union. He is the only regional military commander who is a full member of the Chinese Politburo.
His attack on leftist influence within the Army is stronger and more detailed than any published in recent months. It shows how stubborn is the resistance to Mr. Deng's reformist policies in the armed forces, as well as the determination of the central leadership to uproot this resistance.
''When a village practices leftism, it grows no grain. When a factory practices leftism, it turns out no products. When a school practices leftism, it produces no talent. And when an Army practices leftism, it has no combat strength,'' General Li wrote.
General Li himself advanced rapidly during the Cultural Revolution when leftism, promoted by Mao Tse-tung, was at its height and Deng was in disgrace. He became commander of the northeast military region in January 1974. While other regional commanders on the Politburo have been retired one by one, General Li has remained entrenched in his satrapy for nine years.
During this period, a number of Western observers have identified General Li as one of the conservative commanders opposed to the Deng policy of modernizing China through economic incentives and substituting pragmatism for ideological wordspouting. In 1980, when Hua Guofeng, then still premier, put forward the Maoist slogan ''raise the proletariat, overthrow the bourgeoisie,'' he toured the northeast in his capacity as chairman of the party's military commission.
It was believed at that time he was seeking support from General Li in his struggle with Deng over the leadership. But other observers point out that General Li has from time to time voiced support both for the modernization program and for democratization. As commander of a region surrounded on three sides by Soviet forces, he is believed to be well aware of the need for a modern , professionalized Army as advocated by Deng, not the militia and guerrilla forces beloved by Mao.
Leftism has been so entrenched in China in the past that it has imbued everyone with its atmosphere and has become the standard by which things are judged. That is why the struggle against it has to be arduous.
General Li makes it clear he is referring to leftism within the Army, to such things as blind worship of Mao and a clinging to ideological rigidities which hamper creative initiative and the modernizing spirit.
General Li also attacks leftism as a pretence for forcing the masses into a false enthusiasm. The so-called mass line, he says, has simply been an excuse for neglecting the real wishes of the masses and using administrative measures to force compliance with the subjective wishes of those in command.