AS Level Russian History; edexcel D4: Stalin's Russia 1924-1953

Complete set of revision cards for the above topic; good luck!


Bolshevism after the war and Lenin's Legacy

  • The Bolsheviks weren't very strong after the war because their support came from the small proletariat but they re-named themselves the communist party and were victorious after years of war in 1922
  • After his death in 1924, Lenin left a testament criticising most of his potential successors:
    • Stalin (General Secretary) had a lot of power which Lenin doubted he was "capable of handling with enough caution" and wanted him removed
    • Trotsky was the most capable but was too self-confident
    • Kamenev and Zinoviev had opposed the October 1917 Uprising
    • Bukharin was intellegent and popular, but his views weren't truly Marxist, which would be a problem in a revolution
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The Potential Candidates

Kamenev had a secure power base in Moscow (Moscow Soviet) and was intelligent BUT he had voted against the October uprising and had often clashed with Lenin (loyalty?)

Zinoviev had a secure power base in Petrograd (Petrograd Soviet) and was a close assosciate with Lenin, BUT had many enemies (ambition) and had voted against the October Uprising.

Bukharin was popular with Lenin as well as within the party and was editor of the Pravda after Oct. 1917 (views spread) BUT had headed the first Communist Opposition group in 1918 and wasn't a very good politician.

Trotsky was Commissar for Foreign Affairs; Brest-Litovsk treaty - some support (peace) but some oppostion (losses). He became Commissar for War in the civil war and gained support from the red army because he gave inspirrational speeches to troops whom he visited.

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The Potential Candidates

HOWEVER, Trotsky had a limited support base; he had organised grain requisitioning (alienated peasants), the proletariat generally preferred someone with a modest background (ie Stalin). He had also been a Menshevik (loyalty questionable) and wasn't a natural politician. HE DID HAVE THE SUPPORT OF THE ARMY (some feared military dictatorship but generally good) AND THE YOUNGER, MORE RADICAL COMMUNISTS. He also wasn't present at Lenin's funeral and gave the impression that he didn't want the job.

Stalin rose to prominence when he became general secretary; he was able to put his supporters into important positions in the party. He also supervised Lenin enrolment, meaning that he gained support from many new members of the party (especially Proletariat) because they had only really joined to improve their personal prospects. Stalin also had a humble background which many party members could relate to (human touch) and promoted the cult of Lenin (gave a speech at the funeral, wrote "Foundations of Leninism", renamed Petrograd (Leningrad) and lectured on Lenin) However, Lenin had wanted to remove him from his position as General Secretary, and Stalin's personality (rude) was a problem.

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The Future of the USSR

The NEP created divisions; Lenin had only thought of it as temporary but never said how long it should last:

  • Bukharin wanted to keep it; it was providing food to the cities and the proletariat. He told peasants to enrich themselves and buy things to promote industry; he didn't want to create division between peasants and proletariat.
  • Trotsky wanted to abolish it; he resented the fact that all industry wasn't under state control and that communism hadn't truly spread to the countryside. He wanted to form collective farms to eliminate division between kulaks and poor peasants with profits from these going to improve the country's industry
  • Stalin stayed out of it; large support base

Trotsky opposed the growing bureaucracy in the party; wanted to introduce greater democracy but many party members disagreed (they had gained greater prestige via bureaucracy) and agreed with Stalin; who was trying to create a government totally dominated by the communists which wouldn't consult the people and would aim to dominate russians asap, giving the General Secretary (ie him) great power.

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The Future of the USSR

Russia was the only communist state and was surrounded by enemies; Trotsky and Stalin had different ideas as to how to solve this:

Trotsky; World Revolution

  • Argued that Russia had a duty to export communism to other countrys; revolution was the only way to do this
  • This would have meant violence, which the Russians were sick of; they had been through a civil war and WW1 and wanted peace

Stalin; Socialism in One country

  • After previous unsuccessful revolutions in Germany and Hungary, Stalin didn't think any more attempts were a good idea
  • Wanted to focus on developments at home, not abroad
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Stalin's Victory

Stage One: Triumvirate against Trotsky: Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin:

  • Convinced the party not to publish Lenin's testament (criticism)
  • Promoted the cult of Lenin; said Trotsky was disloyal to Lenin
  • Criticised Trotsky's late conversion to Bolshevism
  • Used the ban on factionalism to silence Trotsky and his suppoters at the 1924 congress
    • Trotsky forced to resign as Commissar for War (lost support)

Stage Two: Duumvirate against the New Opposition: Bukharin and Stalin:

  • Filled the congress with Stalin's supporters against Kamenev and Zinoviev's new policies (close to Trotsky's)
    • Kamenev and Zinoviev lost their positions as head of the Moscow and Petrograd Soviets)
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Stalin's Victory

Stage Three: Duumivirate against the United Opposition: Stalin and Bukharin:

  • Accussed Kamenev, Zinoviev and Trotsky of factionalism; prevented from speaking at the 1927 congress
  • Kamenev and Zinoviev forced to make humiliating apologies in order to remain in the party
  • Trotsky refused to apologies; expelled and sent to Central Asia

Stage Four: Stalin against the Right: There was a grain shortage (1927-28) because of the low prices the government was paying; the NEP was blamed but Bukharin remained a supporter.

  • Stalin suddenly proposed the removal of the NEP (1928) and the introduction of collectivisation of agriculture and a 5-year-plan.
  • Gained the support of the leaderless left and appealed to the majority of communists
  • Bukharin removed from leadership and Stalin became party leader.
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Why did Stalin win?

  • His opponents underestimated him; they thought he was just an administrator, but he used this to his advantage
  • Trotsky became isolated after Lenin's death and the Triumvirate was able to undermine him easily
  • Trotsky made decisions that made him seem reluctant to become the next leader; 1922, turned down the job as deputy chairman of Sovnarkom
  • Stalin had a very strong power base in the party where the others had limited and concentrated areas of power
  • Stalin outmanoueuvered his opponents; he formed alliances for as long as it took to otherthrow someone else then dropped them
  • Stalin was flexible with his policies and appealed to both left and right
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The Second Communist Revolution: 1924-41

Stalin said that there was a gap of 50-100 years between the USSR and other western countries which had to be closed in 10 years.


  • 5-year-plans introduced for speedy industrialisation
  • Larger proletariat, improved technology, therefore improved agriculture


  • Collectivisation would improve output, providing stable food supplies for towns and surplus grain would be exported to pay for essential machinery (needed for Stalin's industrial plans)
  • Collectivisation would also give greater power to the state, eliminating Kulaks
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Improving Agriculture

  • Farming Techniques hadn't changed for hundreds of years, and most famers tended small plots of land; little surplus sold (created shortages; rationing); they couldn't afford machinery e.g. combine harvesters
  • It was difficult to collet food tax from all the people in the countryside

The food shortage of 1927-8 led to grain requisitioning, but there was large amounts of resistance to the forceful nature of this from the peasants and the government realised they couldn't continue with this, so Stalin introduced Collectivisation.

Collectivisation meant that peasants had to give up their land, home, animals and equipment. Small farms were then grouped to form a collective farm which the state took 40% of produce from. In some cases a state farm was set up, and farmers were paid to work on these. Private farming was abolished.

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Collectivisation of agriculture

Collectivisation was a disaster. Peasants didn't want to give anything up so they destroyed it all, making food shortages worse. Many workers were sent to try to force peasants to join collective farms, anyone who refused was killed, but Stalin realised rapid collectivisation was damaging to the economy, blamed the local officials and ceased collectivisation in March 1930.

He restarted the process in 1931 and it was almost complete by 1936. This was bad; grain production fell from 73.3 million to 67.6 million tonnes in 6 years, and the number of livestock almost halved due to slaughter and neglect. The Kulaks were killed or sent to work camps, but they were some of the country's best farmers, making it harder for these farms to be successful. This led to famine; Stalin cut off the grain supplies to the farmers in the Ukraine who had resisted, leading to a major famine.


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Collectivisation of Agriculture

Collectivisation increased the hold the state had on the countryside:

  • Churches were converted to bans and priests weren't allowed on collective farms (orthodoxy was opposed to communism)
  • Advanced the policy of Socialism in One Country becuase of increased control
  • During this period, those who opposed Stalin were removed from positions of power

There was some improvement in the countryside; the building of schools and hospitals and the ability to hire machinery for a share of their produce (BUT EXPENSIVE AND AN AGENT OF THE SECRET POLICE WAS ALWAYS THERE TO MONITOR THE PEASANTS) for example.

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The 5-Year-Plans

  • Crucial because the communists relied on the proletariat for support; increased the size
  • Increased the military and economic strength (USSR still the only communist state; enemies)
  • The NEP was unpopular; increased social gap and wasn't delivering the industrialisation needed

Stalin needed a command economy (when targets are set by the state) to execute the 5-year-plans) so turned to the Gosplan, who set targets for each industry. These targets were sent to regions, then to mines or factories, then each worker was set an individual target however possible.

The First 5-Year-Plan: October 1928-December 1932

  • Focused on heavy industry
  • New industrial plants built to the east and new cities were built from scratch
  • HEP (Dnieprostroi Dam) provided electricity for the plan - essential
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The Five-Year-Plans

  • Tractor factories built in Stalingrad and Cars built in Moscow, a canal built by prisoners connected Russia
  • Plan announced complete in 1929; targets not actually met but the increase in output was impressive BUT FIGURES FALSIFIED AND UNREALISTIC TARGETS MEANT QUANTITY WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAT QUALITY

The Second 5-Year-Plan: Jan 1933-Dec 1937

  • Maintained focus on heavy industry but also focused on other areas of the economy
  • More agricultural equipment was built to improve the output of collectivised farms
  • Improved transport links e.g. canals
  • Some consumer goods but still a low priority, show pieces for propaganda purposes were more important
  • New factories from Plan 1 became fully functioning and were helpful
  • New system of wages inspired greater effort for more pay
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The Five-Year-Plans

  • The Stakhanovite movement, named after a miner who had apparently mined 14x his quota also inspired more work
  • The plan was announced over again after only 4 years, and despite meeting hardly any targets again, the increase in output was impressive

The Third 5-Year-Plan: Jan. 1938-Jun. 1941

  • Greater focus on consumer goods but also in military goods (war with Nazi Germany seemed likely)
  • Invasion by Germany in June 1941 meant the plan lasted only 3 1/2 years
  • Output grew very little because of purges and internal passports (which provided a stable workforce but meant that people were unable to change their jobs regularly, so those industries who needed more workers found it difficult to get them)
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The 5-Year-Plans

Economical and Industrial Improvements

  • USSR transformed from a largely agricultural to an industrial power in 12 years
  • Great propaganda as the Great Depression didn't affect increase in industrial output
  • Major Projects impressed Soviets and Foreigners alike
  • Had the industrial power to defeat the Nazis

Social Improvements

  • Working conditions still weren't good, and overcrowing got worse
  • HOWEVER good proportion of female workers, young people prepared to work very hard,
  • Education and Healthcare improved
  • Paid holidays were introduced
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The 5-Year-Plans

Political Improvements

  • 1928 - established in cities and towns but not in the countryside
  • 1940 - collectivisation and the 5-year-plans meant that life was totally different; more industrialised, meaning that the communists had much firmer grip on power
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Stalin's Social Policies

The communist's official policy was of equality among the sexes, and in 1919, the party had radically liberal policies; easy divorce, spread of female literacy, easy abortion. The female sector of the party saw the family institution as a symbol of pre-revolutionary oppression

  • +ve because = More women entered the workforce (40%) and educational opportunites improved; more women at universities, more career opportunities
  • -ve because = End of 1920s, 50%+ marriages ended in divorce; women were unable to raise their children which led to more gangs of unwanted children; more crime. Women never really made a political difference.

BUT THIS LED TO A BREAKDOWN OF SOCIETY  SO STALIN INTRODUCED LAWS IN 1936. These made divorces difficult and expensive, most abortions illegal, increased child support payments and introduced incentives for larger familes.

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Stalin's Social Policies

  • In the 1920s, the party had gone more to the vocational side of education, leading to a drop in standards, so Stalin placed more emphasis on exams
  • He indoctrinated children in youth organisations (Young Pioneers (under 15) Young Communist League (15-25) spread propaganda. Members pledged their allegience to Stalin)

Stalin also attacked religion as he believed atheism and communism were 'inseperable':

  • 1929 - illegal for religious activities except in religious buildings
  • 1930s- Many violent attacks on Orthodox Churches and their priests, as well as Muslims and Jew suffering BUT the attacks on the Orthodox Church were eased in 1941 - Nazi Invasion
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A Totalitarian State?

A totaliatarian state is one where the government attempts to take total control of the country. Russia had many characteristics of a totalitarian state.

Lenin had used repression: 1917 established the Cheka, The Red Terror, Grain was stolen during the civil war, by the early 1920s labour camps had been set up.

Stalin used Show Trials from 1928. The oucomes were already decided:

  • Shakhty Trial (1928) - 53 prisoners accused of industrial sabotage, 49 convicted, 5 executed
  • Menshevik Trial (1931) - Former Mensheviks working as economists accused of undermining the first 5-Year-Plan
  • Metropolitan-Vickers Trial (1933) - 6 British engineers accused of spying and sabotage
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The Purges

Opposition in and out of Russia was growing; people thought that collectivisation had been too quick and brutal, several members questionned Stalin's leadership and wanted him replaced and the Nazis hated communism.

The Ryutin Affair (1932) undermined Stalin's authority; Ryutin, a former member of the central committee, called for a 'fresh start' in economic policies, saying that Stalin was a 'gravedigger of revolution'. Stalin wanted him arrested and executed but other party members talked him out of it. Ryutin was eventually executed in '37, but it showed that Stalin didn't have full control of the party or government.

Kirov also seemed a threat; he was charismatic, Russian and popular. He was a leading hard-line communist (Chariman of the Leningrad Soviet) but had some moderate policies (e.g. a better standard of living for industrial workers). At the 1934 Party Congress, he received more votes than Stalin for re-election to the Central Committee; these results were repressed but it showed Stalin's limited support. 1st December 1934; Kirov murdered by Nikolayev; Stalin may have ordered it but either way he used it to purge his opposition.

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The Purges

Stalin claimed that Kirov's murder was a large conspiracy and used this as an excuse to arrest and murder his enemiees in the party. The NKVD (the new secret police) purged over 40,000 people from the Leningrad party under their head Yagoda. They also purged delegates from the Congress of Victors who hadn't voted for Stalin's re-election.

In 1936, Yezhov took over the NKVD; he was loyal to Stalin and targeted anyone who Stalin believe was a threat. The period in which he controlled the NKVD (1936-8) is known as the Great Terror. Three major show trials happened in these years:

  • The trial of the 16 - 1936 - Inc. Kamenev and Zinoviev, accused of being members of the Revolutionary Bloc, conspiring to murder Kirov, undermining the 5-Year-Plans. All forced to confess and all shot
  • The trial of the 17 - 1937 - Inc. Radek and Pyatakov (Lenin's allies), accused of spying for Nazi Germany, Radek confessed, saving his life but incriminating Buharin, and 13 executed
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The Purges

  • The trial of the 21 - 1938: Inc. Bukharin, accused of treason and saboltage (Bukharin also accused of plotting to kill Lenin). All executed.

The Red Army was then purged; Stalin feared a military coup because many Red Army leaders came from peasant backgrounds who had been badly affected by collectivisation. In 1937, it was annouced that a "military-Trotskyist conspiracy" had been uncovered with Tukhachevsky at it's helm; he was arrested and trialed in secret, and between 1937-9, 35,000 officers had been shot and replaced with inexperienced officers, which weakened the Red Army.

This had a seriously negative effect on society; people lived in fear and in some cases even denounced members of their own families (Morozov, who denounced his father for corrupt dealings). It coincided with 5-year-plan no. 3, which was only in draft form because of purging.

Most purges had stopped by 1938,  Yezhov was arrested and executed in 1940. His successor Beria only purged twice more; Russian PoWs ('45) and Leningrad ('49)

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The Purges

The Purges achieved their main aims; they eliminated any competition and put fear into the Russians, meaning there was no opposition until Stalin died in '53.

BUT there was a great economic and human cost; 8 million arrested and around 3 million died as a result of the camps or execution. Industry and agriculture was negatively affected as many of the best workers or farmers had been killed or imprisoned, there was a similar situation in the military and education.

Some people did support them:

  • Communists wanted rid of the countries class enemies; e.g. Kulaks; equal society
  • Communist propaganda had convinced people that there were traitors within the Soviet Union
  • Some people used them to settle personal arguments or improve their own social standing
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A Totalitarian Culture

The 1920s was a period of reaction against the elitist culture created by the Tsars; The RAPP (created 1925) encouraged realism and lots of books were published about personal success to meet the 5-year-plans, particularly Cement. There was also experimentation in agriculture, for example the Monument to the Third International.

BUT Stalin introduced Socialist Realism to promote Socialism (Propaganda) and encouraged artists and authors to glorify socialist actions e.g. revolutions. Stalin called artists "engineers of the human soul" and so made it simple and optimistic, creating heroes for people to follow.

Stalin also created his own personality cult (Like the cult of Lenin). Two books were published in 1938 which rewrote history and made Stalin look like a hero, propaganda on radio, papers and posters referred to his genius and made him look God-like. Towns were renamed after him (Stalingrad), films and music were used to promote him, his birthday became a national celebration. He was portrayed as a hero because of WW2.

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Culture under Stalin


RAPP closed in 1932. Sholokov wrote of peolpe struggling through adversity to do well for Russia, won the Stalin Prize for Literature. Two other famous authors; Ostrovsky (centres on industry and 5-year-plans) and Gorky.

Music and Films

Constantly optimistic about the country's achievements e.g. 'We Will Be Like Lenin'. Experimentations discouraged e.g. Shostakovich's opera was criticised for being too confusing. Films glorifed the Ocober revolution ('October' by Eisenstein) and Stalin

Paintings and Architecture

Paintings (e.g. at the Metro) as realistic as possible and buildings were more traditional ('wedding cake architecture')

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The USSR in WW2

Stalin tried to sign a pact with the Allies but they refused because they thought Russian military was weak and didn't trust communism or the USSR, so he made one with the Nazis (Aug. 1939 - neither would invade and split eatern europe)


22nd June 1941 - Operation Barbarossa; 'Blitzkraig' reached Leningrad, but unable to progress, so seiged for nearly 3 years. Also reached Moscw in December 1941 but the harsh winter made them retreat. The attack towards the South was successful, but then stopped by the Red Army. By the end of 1914:

  • Controlled lots of Russia (45% population)
  • USSR lost access to lots of grain, coal and steel
  • Lots of loss of life
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The USSR in WW2

BUT after disappearing in the early days of the war, Stalin returned an effective leader; he stayed in Moscow depite German success - morale. As the Soviets retreated they destroyed roads, communication and food; made it hard for German troops. Germany was too rasist; they would have had lots of support from soviets but they treated them brutally.

Battle of Stalingrad began 1942; Hitler wanted to advance South; despite every able-bodied citizen having a rifle, they were fighting in the city by November. BUT Zhukov led a counter offensive - cut off supply lines so Germans surrendered in February 1943. Victory raised morale.

At Kursk, the Russians had a lot more men and equipment. It was a decisive win, and despite massive loss of life, teh German army in the east had been crushed,

In 1945, the Soviets attacked Russia, and entered Berlin in April. The Germans surrendered on 2nd May and the war ended on the 10th.

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Effects of WW2

Lots of farmers were called to the army, so food production was left to those who were unable to fight. It was HARD; enough food could never be produced. This also affected the towns (rationing and starving) and people in towns were expected to work 24/7 and their homes were left without electricity.

Stalin stopped persecuting religion, who in turn supported Stalin and the war.  Stalin did control religion BUT morale was increased.

Morale was also increased via propaganda; showed Stalin as a wise and good military leader. 'Leningrad Symphony' became the new national anthem and was broadcast everywhere.

A lot of indutrial and agricultural land had been lost due to the war (the Ukraine and Dombass in particular). Stavka (created by Stalin) moved many factories out of harms way, sending their workers with them. Their managers were given much more freedom (no targets) they were just encouraged to do as much as they could; consumer goods were impossible to get hold of.

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Effects of WW2

1942 - More than 1/2 the national income spent on the war (more than elsewhere) and they were able to produce more arms and ammunition than Germany. More women and young boys were drafted in to help and labour camps contributed to the war effort. THEIR ABILITY TO OUTPRODUCE GERMANY WAS IMPORTANT IN THEM WINNING THE WAR.

March 1941 - Lend-lease introduced by Roosevelt. Started to reach USSR in 1943 and provided radio equipment, vital raw materials, tonnes of food and specialists to teach Russians how best to use these resources.

Lend-lease also helped with transport; helped rebuild railway by shipping track etc. meaning that more troops could be moved more easily, as well as providing veichles.


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A New Superpower

After WW2, only the USA and USSR were still really superpowers with global significance.

Communism and the USSR had been strengthened by victory as they had control over a lot of countries. Eatern Europe became communist; troops had claimed to be liberating towns but communist governments were installed. This influence spread abroad (China 1949 and North Korea 1950-3)

The economy had held out through WW2 but there was damage there; 25 million had been killed (loss of workers) towns, factories and mines had been destroyed and a large amount of wealth had been spent on the war. This led to the 4th 5-year-plan (1946-1950). This helped economy and raw material production to surpass previous levels. Standards of living were low and there weren't many consumer goods BUT they had an excellent economy.

The military was strong; it had had a lot spent on it and they weren't demobolised. They developed nuclear weapons by 1949.

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Stalin's Legacy

Attacked by Khrushchev (Stalin's successor) after 1953; denounced Stalin's oppressive rule and revealed that Lenin had wanted him removed from power. 1961 his body was removed from the mausoleum (where it was with Lenin's) and he was buried in Moscow.

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Good set of cards, a bit more detail could be provided but overall useful.

Karman Bains


really good for revision



Truly incredible, so amazingly helpful, can't praise it enough, however not very much about his cult of personality.



Truly incredible, so amazingly helpful, can't praise it enough, however not very much about his cult of personality.



Truly incredible, so amazingly helpful, can't praise it enough, however not very much about his cult of personality.



Truly incredible, so amazingly helpful, can't praise it enough, however not very much about his cult of personality.

Georgina Mackay


these helped me loads with revision woo.



Great stuff - anyone else agree that Edward in the comments got a little carried away?

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