MOSCOW, JULY 14 -- Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, defining the limits of glasnost, or openness, has warned top Soviet editors that any attempt to move economic and cultural reforms "beyond socialism" will be held up to public criticism by the Communist Party.

Gorbachev's comments to senior media and cultural officials, reported tonight by the news agency Tass, suggest a new caution in the glasnost policy that in the last year has opened up areas of Soviet society and history to debate and criticism.

Openness and democracy "do not mean permissiveness," Tass quoted Gorbachev as saying. "Openness is called upon to strengthen socialism . . . . It is not an attempt to undermine socialism."

Tass said the Soviet leader indicated that some "aberrations" already have occurred in the cultural debate, although he noted he had no major "rebukes" to make.

"If there were any extremes -- and, incidentally, there have been, and we saw them -- this took place after all within the framework of the struggle for socialism," he said.

"But if someone begins to look for and suggest to us values and discoveries beyond the interests of the people and beyond socialism, then the Central Committee will publicly criticize this."

According to reports, Gorbachev's six-hour meeting with media officials took place last week, with Politburo member Alexander Yakovlev in attendance.

It followed a talk given by Yegor Ligachev, the second-ranking member of the party, to the staff of a central newspaper last week. Ligachev reportedly struck a conservative line and warned against "negative tendencies" in literature.

Some western and Soviet analysts say that the two discussions with the press point to a struggle, as Ligachev and Yakovlev sort out their roles in the cultural and ideological realms.

Gorbachev's remarks, as quoted by Tass, echoed some of Ligachev's defensive arguments. The Soviet leader cautioned against criticism or historical debates that undermine faith in the Soviet system.

He referred to the terrors during the regime of Joseph Stalin -- increasingly the focus of attention here -- when he said, "People will never forgive the repressions." But, according to Tass, he emphasized that "those events do not belittle everything done by the party and the people."

"We are proud of every day we lived through," he said. "Every day is dear to us even when it was very trying . . . . Therefore, we cannot permit a disrespectful attitude toward our people, toward the generations who went through all this and brought the country to its present day."

Ligachev, widely viewed as the Politburo conservative who balances Gorbachev's reformism, frequently has spoken out against those who stress the dark side of Soviet history and ignore its achievements. History, particularly that of Stalin's era, has come to the foreground in the national discussion.

Newspapers have printed both sides of the debate, but for the most part, the press has pushed for a frank reexamination of the Soviet past. Gorbachev again emphasized the importance of the press in reforming the Soviet economy and attitudes. But he put new emphasis on the "common responsibility" of the media and the state's leaders.

"At present, processes of restructuring are spreading far and wide," he said. "A difficult transitional period has come and we now especially need competence and responsibility."