State socialism is the idea that we need to strive and implement a system where coercive power resides in the hands of a state mechanism who (ideally) uses it to progress to further stages towards communism by taking measures such as installing a democratic government and suppressing the capitalist class.
I consider that putting this as an immediate goal is a mistake. Relying on state power to handle the progression towards communism has two very mortal perils: The subdual of the activist feeling of the working class and the danger of the state leadership appropriating the power.
The revolutionary working class
By having reached the point of even considering State Socialism it means that a society has achieved a revolutionary victory over the bourgeoisie. This has obviously happened as a result of popular proletariat action. Strikes, marches, occupations etc. It has not and it could not have been achieved through the actions of an enlightened leadership as proven by the miserable failure of reformism to deliver even miniscule results in the last century. As a result installing state socialism would require the activist workers to willingly deliver coercive power to a new enlightened elite who will then guide society.
Putting aside for a moment the likeliness of this happening without external coercive factors, lets consider for a moment that this comes to pass. The immediate loss of such a setup would be the activist spirit of the working class. Where before all the gains, up to and including the revolution have been because of mass action which led to more and more revolutionary consiousness and camaraderie, now all that is required from the proletariat is continued subservience to the leadership of the state.
Even were I to grant that the state is benevolent, because the worker (and his own institutions – councils and the like) is not required anymore to strive for his own gains and progress, he is more and more losing his feeling to do it and simply learns to get along with what the state instructs him to do. Such a loss is immeasurable as this is the main reason any potential dictator can disrupt the movement towards Communism and instead turn the whole thing towards his own benefit. As the workers are now not anymore used to thinking and taking decisions for themselves but rather have to judge which of their leaders is actually on their side, it’s only a matter of propaganda before this happens.
Hijacking the State
By far the biggest threat going in the path of State socialism is that the people who have been chosen to defend the insterests of the Proletariat will turn against them. Indeed it has often been the case that the main reason why State Socialism was implemented was specifically for this purpose, as we can see by looking from Stalin’s rise to power. It was named “State Socialism” when it was actually State Capitalism.
By looking at the situation before this State setup was brought forward, we will see a surprisingly libertarian working of society, where workers councils were taking the decisions and the power was federated and controlled from its own distribution.
Once you replace the distributed and necessarily democratic organization of worker’s councils with centralized state power, you setup the base for the Socialist’s undoing. All a tyrrant needs to do is parrot the socialist rhetoric until the worker’s activism is sapped (see above) and then slowly roll back all the benefits achieved by discovering emergencies and necessities to do so. From one year to the other, the workers are back where they started, only now their leaders call themselves socialist as well.
No, state socialism is absolutely the wrong path to take. The only way to proceed towards communism is by letting the workers emancipate themselves. This can certainly include making use of the state mechanism in order to defend against counter-revolutionary attempts or to keep providing other necessary services (such as healthcare), but it should not be used for leadership or anything else that has the capability to remove the power from the workers or make them into simple passive tools.