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The Four-year plan was a series of economic reforms created by the Nazi Party. The main aim of the Four-year plan was to prepare Germany for self-sufficiency in four years (1936–1940). The Four-year plan sought to reduce unemployment; increase synthetic fibre production; undertake public works projects under the direction of Fritz Todt; increase automobile production; initiate numerous building and architectural projects; and further develop the Autobahn system. The plan also emphasized building up the nation's military defenses, disregarding the restrictions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles after the German defeat in World War I.
The rearmament was in direct violation of the strict terms set by the Allies of World War I at the Treaty of Versailles. The German army was to be restricted to 100,000 men, there was to be no conscription, no tanks or heavy artillery and no general staff. The German navy was restricted to 15,000 men and no submarines, while the fleet was limited to 6 battleships (of less than 10,000 tonnes), 6 cruisers and 12 destroyers. Germany was not permitted an air force. Finally, Germany was explicitly required to retain all enlisted men for 12 years and all officers for 25 years, so that only a limited number of men would have military training.
That Germany is rearming cannot be denied. After all the victors in the Great War except England disregarded their own disarmament pledges, the Führer abrogated the agreement which bound his own country, thus following the example of the nations who were responsible for the Versailles Treaty. It is today a commonly admitted part of Hitler's policy to develop an army strong enough to resist any attack, regardless of from which side it may come. I believe that he has already reached this point of inviolability.
In a September 1936 speech before the Labour Front, Hitler explained the plan's focus and drew a comparison between the resources at Germany's disposal and those accessible to the "incapable" bolsheviks. The American press immediately interpreted this speech as Hitler's call for war with the Soviet Union and addressed it to the public as such. However, Hitler's proclamation actually suggested that, because of Germany's undersupplied position, a great task was set ahead for the country to "develop a form of life which [was] higher than that existing in [the] bolshevist paradise of Soviet Russia".
The Four Year Plan favoured both the protection of agriculture and the promotion of economic independence. Hermann Göring was put in charge of the Four-year plan on 18 October 1936 and given extraordinary powers for an extraordinary situation. In short, Göring had complete control over the economy including the private sector, especially after the Minister of Economics, Hjalmar Schacht, began to lose favour with Hitler because of his opposition to growing military expenditures at the expense of civilian economic growth. During the following years, Germany began building refineries, aluminium plants, and factories for the development of synthetic materials.
The Four-year plan technically expired in 1940, but the "Office of the Four-year plan" (considered a cabinet-level agency) had grown to such a power-base that the Four-year plan was extended indefinitely. In the end, however, it should be noted that none of the Four-year plan's goals relating to economic production were ever accomplished between 1936 and 1945.
- Overy, R. J., War and Economy in the Third Reich, OUP, New York, 1994, p.355
- Five-year plans for the national economy of the Soviet Union preceding the Nazi "Four-year plan" and giving it many of its elements.