The Russian Civil War (19171923) occurred in three periods:
October 1917 November 1918, from the Bolshevik Revolution to the First World War Armistice, developed from the Bolshevik government's November 1917 nationalization of traditional Cossack lands. This provoked the insurrection of General Alexey Maximovich Kaledin's Volunteer Army in the River Don region. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) aggravated Russian internal politics. The situation encouraged direct Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, in which twelve foreign countries supported anti-Bolshevik militias. A series of engagements resulted, involving, amongst others, the Czechoslovak Legion, the Polish 5th Rifle Division, and the pro-Bolshevik Red Latvian Riflemen.
January 1919 November 1919 initially saw the White armies successfully advancing: from the south, under General Anton Denikin; from the east, under Admiral Aleksandr Vasilevich Kolchak; and from the northwest, under General Nikolai Nikolaevich Yudenich. The Whites defeated the Red Army on each front. Leon Trotsky reformed and counterattacked: the Red Army repelled Admiral Kolchak's army in June; and the armies of General Denikin and General Yudenich in October. By mid-November the White armies were all almost completely exhausted. In January 1920, Budenny's First Cavalry Army entered Rostov-on-Don.
1919 to 1923
At the war's start, the Red Army consisted of 299 infantry regiments. Civil war intensified after Lenin dissolved the Russian Constituent Assembly (56 January 1918) and the Soviet government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (3 March 1918), removing Russia from the Great War. Free from international war, the Red Army confronted an internecine war against a loose alliance of anti-Communist forces, comprising the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, the "Black Army" led by Nestor Makhno, the anti-White and anti-Red Green armies, and others. 23 February 1918, "Red Army Day", has a two-fold historical significance: the first day of drafting recruits (in Petrograd and Moscow); and the first day of combat against the occupying Imperial German Army.
On 6 September 1918 the Bolshevik militias consolidated under the supreme command of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic Russian: Revvoyensoviet, Revolyutsionny Voyenny Sovyet. The first Chairman was Leon Trotsky. The first commander-in-chief was Jukums Vcietis from the Latvian Riflemen; in July 1919 he was replaced by Sergey Kamenev. Soon afterwards Trotsky established the GRU (military intelligence) to provide political and military intelligence to Red Army commanders. Trotsky founded the Red Army with an initial Red Guard organization, and a core soldiery of Red Guard militiamen and Chekist secret police. Conscription began in June 1918, and opposition to it was violently suppressed. To control the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Red Army soldiery, the Cheka operated special punitive brigades which suppressed anti-communists, deserters, and "enemies of the state". Wartime pragmatism allowed the recruitment of ex-Tsarist officers and sergeants (non-commissioned officers, NCOs) into the Red Army. Lev Glezarov's special commission recruited and screened them. By mid-August 1920 the Red Army's former Tsarist personnel included 48,000 officers, 10,300 administrators, and 214,000 NCOs. At the civil war's start, ex-Tsarists made up 75% of the Red Army officer-corps, who were employed as military specialists (voenspetsy, ru: ). The Bolsheviks occasionally enforced the loyalty of such recruits by holding their families as hostages. At war's end in 1922, ex-Tsarists constituted 83% of the Red Army's divisional and corps commanders.
The Red Army used special regiments for ethnic minorities, like the Dungan Cavalry Regiment commanded by the Dungan Magaza Masanchi. The Red Army also co-operated with armed Bolshevik Party-oriented volunteer units, the (special task units chasti osobogo naznacheniya or ChON) from 1919 to 1925.
The slogan "exhortation, organization, and reprisals" expressed the discipline and motivation which ensured the Red Army's tactical and strategic success. On campaign, the attached Cheka Special Punitive Brigades conducted summary field courts-martial and executions of deserters and slackers. Under Commissar Jnis K. Brzi the Special Punitive Brigades took hostages from the villages of deserters to compel their surrender; one in ten of those returning was executed. The same tactic also suppressed peasant rebellions in areas controlled by the Red Army, the biggest of them being the Tambov Rebellion. The Soviets enforced the loyalty of the various political, ethnic, and national groups in the Red Army through political commissars attached at the brigade and regimental levels. The commissars also had the task of spying on commanders for political incorrectness. Political commissars whose Chekist detachments retreated or broke in the face of the enemy earned the death penalty. In August 1918, Trotsky authorized General Mikhail Tukhachevsky to place blocking units behind politically unreliable Red Army units, to shoot anyone who retreated without permission. In 1942, during the Great Patriotic War (19411945), Joseph Stalin reintroduced the blocking policy, using penal battalions.
The Red Army controlled by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic invaded and annexed non-Russian lands helping to create the Soviet Union.