The world's two communist giants are once again at odds, and once again the jousting ground is economic reform. The Soviet Union has, in its distinctive way, shown its distaste for the latest Chinese economic initiatives via two articles in Pravda, the official Communist Party newspaper.
Yet, ironically, the sign of disapproval comes even as a debate takes place within the Soviet Union over the path this country's own economy should take.
At issue is China's series of reforms to encourage private entrepreneurship. Peking recently lifted production quotas on half the industrial products and two-thirds of the farm products covered in the government economic plan. The reforms, in which market forces are being allowed to play a growing role, were initiated in rural areas and are now being introduced in China's cities.
Pravda, in an article from Peking, said that these measures would result in a ''pluralistic economy,'' borrowing some techniques from ''developed capitalist countries.'' Then Pravda carried a dispatch from Washington by a correspondent of Tass, the official Soviet news agency, who noted that the reforms were being seen in the West as ''a retreat from the models of the orthodox planned economy.''
The dispatch went on to list the capitalistic ills to which the Chinese economy would presumably now fall prey: ''disproportional'' development, inflation, unemployment, and ''social disequality between the urban and rural populations.''
''Of special interest,'' said the report, ''is the prospect for development of Sino-American ties....''
Relations between the Soviet Union and China have been strained for years, and the Soviet Union steps up its criticism each time China broadens ties with the United States or allows any measure of capitalism into its economy.
The Soviet Union has yet to move away from the cumbersome central economic planning process - in which the state, not supply and demand, regulates the production of virtually all consumer goods. Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko is a firm adherent of state central planning, even as China and some of the Soviet Union's East-bloc allies move toward decentralization.
The Chinese, for example, would allow individual state enterprises to tailor production to meet consumer needs, and give managers more flexibility in setting wages and cutting costs. Similar ideas are embodied in a series of economic experiments now under way here. But while they had firm backing from the late Yuri Andropov, they seem to have been played down by Mr. Chernenko.
Ironically, the Russians already depend on a form of private entrepreneurship to meet a growing shortfall of fruit, vegetables, and other produce. Private plots in this country, for example, provide half of some types of produce, although they occupy only a fraction of the land area of state and collective farms.
In Soviet cities, produce from private plots sells at farmers' markets for many times the official state price. And farmers' markets often have a wide variety of produce to sell, while state stores seem only to have cucumbers, cabbage, and potatoes in anything that approaches abundance.