A state-run economic system is not socialism! Karl Marx and Frederick Engels clearly distinguished between state ownership of the means of production and social ownership. They opposed the very existence of the state. State ownership means the continued existence of a governmental power over and above the people themselves; it signifies continued class rule. Social ownership means that the people themselves, collectively and democratically, control the use of the means of production. Marx and Engels described socialism as a society run by "associations of free and equal producers."
Thus the Soviet Union never was a socialist country. At no time did the Soviet Union ever have place a system in which the people owned all the means of production and in which the decisions governing production and distribution were made by democratic associations encompassing all the workers. At no time did the workers dismantle the state, or abolish exploitation and the wages system. Furthermore, as the Socialist Party pointed out in 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution was not, and could not have been, a socialist revolution. Russia in 1917 had none of the material prerequisites for socialism. It was a backward, semi-feudal country, incapable of eliminating scarcity. It had very little industry and only a small minority of people belonged to the working class. The Bolshevik Revolution defeated a weak pre-capitalist government that had supplanted the Tsar. It finished the task begun in the February 1917 revolution, defeating the forces of feudalism and imperialist domination. But when no socialist revolution triumphed in the West, Bolshevism soon developed into a new system of class rule and exploitation, in which the party/state bureaucracy became the ruling class. That system – state-capitalism or bureaucratic collectivism or whatever you wish to name it – was not socialism. Accordingly, the end of the Soviet Union today proves absolutely nothing about the viability of socialism. Of course, the demise of the Soviet Union won't prevent propagandists for capitalism from continuing to use the "Soviet example" as an argument for "why socialism can't work."
The structures of the present government cannot be taken over and used by the working class." Say the Leninists for these structures of the government are designed to protect the ruling class against the workers. In place of these structures, Leninists propose an entirely different kind of state -- a workers' state based on councils of workers' delegates and a workers' militia. The SPGB says that the political state itself, not simply the different forms it might take or structures it might adopt, is an instrument of class rule and must be abolished. A "workers' state" composed of "workers' councils" is a contradiction in terms. The difference between a capitalist state and a "workers' state" is one of semantics only. At best it posits a state in which workers or their representatives would substitute for capitalists and their representatives in conducting an institution that presupposes classes and a ruling class's need for an instrument to oppress a ruled class. A society divided into classes is not socialism, and a society without classes has no need of the instruments of class oppression. Apart from that, the picture conjured up by this formulation of a ruled class of workers ruling over a ruling class of capitalist owners is ludicrous. Why would workers in political power continue to tolerate capitalists in economic power, and how could the workers' political power maintain itself as long as the capitalist class retained its economic power over them? It's pure nonsense.
What gives the state its power is the economic power of the ruling class, which enables it to provide its political instrument with the weapons needed to arm its police and its armies. A "workers' state" would not have that power if the industries remained under capitalist control, and if they did not remain under capitalist control -- if the capitalist class was stripped of its capital -- that class would disappear. Capitalists are not capitalists because they bear the title, but because they own and control capital. Strip them of that and they become powerless. With their disappearance, the need for a political state in any form would also disappear. What would not disappear, however, is the need for some new form of organization -- for something truly different in kind -- to administer the economy. Socialism means the abolition of classes -- of two groups of people, one of which owns and controls the means of wealth production and distribution, and one of which owns nothing but their ability to perform productive and otherwise socially useful labor -- and with the abolition of classes any need for the state, i.e., the instrument by which class rule is enforced. Socialism, as Engels expressed it, is to be an administration of things. The things to be administered are the products and services that flow out of the industries, and the administrators will be the useful producers democratically organized to carry on production and the delivery of goods and services.
Leninists say to achieve socialism, the most militant workers must be organized into a revolutionary party to provide leadership and organization. The Socialist Party understands the need for a political party, but its view of that party's role is fundamentally different from the Leninist theory of a "vanguard party" to lead the working class to socialism. Indeed, no political party can lead the workers to socialism. The workers must make a conscious decision to organize themselves to achieve the socialist goal. Socialism, as Marx said, must be the class-conscious act of the working class itself. The role of the party now, as the Socialist Party views it, is to stimulate class-consciousness and to urge the working class to organise itself.
For socialists, however, a monstrous mockery of socialism is dead. The class struggle, and the efforts to build real socialism continues.