I've got a very low-ram system.
How low is "very low"? 64MB? Sigh
Swap is used as "RAM" when RAM is short of space. It will be S-L-O-W. 128MB is small for swap, bump it up to 512MB and see what happens. It may be slow, but eventually, it'll probably be functional, maybe you can live with this.
A better idea might be to use a minimal linux distro that doesn't need much RAM: Consider puppy, DSL etc.