President Jiang Zemin has asked the party's leftists, or remnant Maoists, to stop making open attacks on reform.
Beijing sources said yesterday the message was conveyed to the leftists by several party elders including Bo Yibo.
Mr Jiang reportedly told the leftists their diatribes against the 'capitalist road' would hurt the central Government's ambitious plan to modernise enterprises in three years.
The President said the Maoists' views would make China look bad in the international community. The sources said the leader of the leftist faction, Deng Liqun, had adopted a low profile since the 15th Party Congress in September.
They said the Maoists, mostly ideologues and conservative economists, were afraid their power bases would be eroded.
For example, there was speculation the Contemporary China Research Institute, a party organ with ministerial status, might be scaled down.
'Deng Liqun, who heads the institute, has restricted his public appearances and is spending time trying to regroup his supporters,' a source said. 'Some younger members of the institute and other leftist bastions are thinking of finding other jobs.' Diplomatic analysts said a number of leftist publications, including Zhenlide Zhuiqiu and Zhongliu had, since the congress, toned down their criticism of market reforms such as the shareholding experiment.
At least one leftist journal was recently forced to find a new 'sponsoring unit'.
However, the analysts said it was too early to say if the Maoists' influence had declined.
They pointed out the leftists still had support among central and regional cadres. For example, dozens of officials attending the Central Party School recently signed a petition attacking a pro-market article written by a senior Guangdong cadre.
The essay reportedly urged rapid progress in quasi-privatisation as a way out for state enterprises.
As a result of the petition, the moderate head of the school, Hu Jintao, was obliged to criticise the cadre for having made a 'theoretical error'.
Political observers said the Maoist message of egalitarianism had also been finding favour with recently laid-off workers.