It’s a mode of production characterized, in addition to its very historically advanced nature, by its transitional nature. It succeeds capitalism through the expropriation of the great means of production, constructing new relations of production that are the material base on which a new superstructure is formed, taking form first and foremost in a working class State (all working class, including rural working class). That’s to say, a State of the majority, with radical democratic content that is expressed, for the first time in recent history, in that it is the majority that decides. It’s therefore a dictatorship not of the property owners but of those who produce the livelihoods of the society, the “dictatorship of the proletariat” (see section 2.2 “Revolution and the worker’s State: democracy, dictatorship, and legitimacy,” from Arrizabalo’s 2018 book Enseñanzas de la Revolución rusa).
It’s a transitional mode of production in that it is no longer capitalism, but it is not yet communism. In a socialist society, the law of value no longer dominates, as it does in a capitalist society. But neither is a socialist society fully determined by the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” as is a comunist society, due to the limitations of its direct origin in capitalism and its coexistence with capitalism and its vestiges- limitations in terms of both the immediate material possibilities as well as the mentality of the majority of the population and so on.
The Soviet experience gives us a good idea of the possibilities of socialism as a mode of production, but also of its threatened condition. The expropriation of the great capital and estates that starts the socialist transition, with its consequent superstructural expression (in particular, a working class State that, among other things, eliminates interference by the churches), allows for unprecedented social advances like, for example, the fight against ignorance and the fight for the emancipation of women (see sections 3.3.1 and 3.3.2 of Arrizabalo’s 2018 book Enseñanzas de la Revolución rusa mentioned). But it’s transitional nature implies two types of threats: on the one hand, hostility from imperialist powers, still capitalist, and internally from the vestiges of the old dominant classes; on the other hand, the threats derived from the fact that immediate improvements for the whole of the population can’t be immediately decreed, especially in a backward society that is behind, as in the Russian case, which makes the support of the masses more difficult and increases the risk of bureaucratization.
Behind it all is the fact that capitalism constitutes a global economy and, therefore, the socialist transition to communism can only be completed on a global scale. For that reason, the formula of “socialism in a single country” proposed by Bujarin in 1924, which Stalin made his own in 1925, is completely unfounded. It’s a formula that is completely foreign to the Marxist tradition and especially specifically to the Bolshevik tradition. This tradition is embodied in the theory of the “permanent revolution” that Trotsky put forth in 1904 (to which Lenin also adhered to in 1905 and that, in fact, had already been upheld by Marx and Engels since 1845).
Today, the step to socialism has become a necessity, considering the increasingly systematically destructive character of capitalism in its imperialist stage. But this step is not guaranteed, although today it is already materially possible, given that social changes are not elucidated in the realm of “good intentions rather in that of conflicting material interests which constitute the base of class warfare.