Do All Organizations Need A Prigozhin?

Do All Organizations Need A Prigozhin?


Leonard Zwelling

In his opinion piece in The New York Times on June 28, Bret Stephens makes some extraordinary points about the recent, short-lived “rebellion” by Yevgeny Prigozhin in Russia.

Stephens refers to a book by Peter Pomerantsev called Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible about Putin’s Russia. As Stephens put is, “it’s a place where people don’t say (and may not even know) what they really think and where sophistication means being in on the truth that most everything is potentially a lie.” Sound like any place you work?

Pomerantsev wrote: “it’s almost as if you are encouraged to have one identity one moment and the opposite one the next. So, you’re always split into little bits and can never quite commit to changing things. And the result is somewhat aggressive apathy you can encounter here so often.” Resonating?

I have not read a better description of academic medicine in 2023.

It is the country- and society-wide delusion that allowed Putin to start the war in Ukraine. It is Prigozhin’s service to the world that he poked a hole in the Putin lie of invincibility let alone military competence. What remains to be seen is what will Putin do about this episode, about Prigozhin, and about what this might mean to the Russian people in whose name this dreadful war is being prosecuted.

Stephens goes on to point out that “a monopoly on truth can be sustained only through a monopoly on violence. But Putin demonopolized violence when the Wagner group waged his wars” and as Stephens says, “one of those centers of power …was…wiling to tell an inconvenient truth.” Prigozhin told the truth about the mess that Putin’s war has become.

Prigozhin is not what we in the United States should hope for in the next Russian leader. He’s a career criminal and a very violent one at that. But for a brief moment, he told the truth about the incompetence and institutional delusion of the Russian government under Putin.

I think the dynamics in Russia bear a frightening similarity to what is going on at MD Anderson. A delusional leader who surrounds himself with yes-people and glorifies his leadership using the opinions of outside polls while neglecting the well-being of the rank-and-file faculty and refusing to see how damaging his leadership has been to the MD Anderson brand and surely to the MD Anderson soul.

Just as the true future of Russia ultimately rests with how much more of this the Russian people can take, the future of MD Anderson rests in the hands of the faculty, particularly the clinical faculty, for it is the work of that faculty that keeps the place afloat and Pisters in power.

Unless and until the faculty say that it has had enough of burnout, popularity polls, and years of unfilled divisional and departmental leadership positions, Pisters stays in power. Where’s the Prigozhin on Holcombe?

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:,

on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle,


directly from the publisher Dorrance at:

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